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Title: Bye-Ways
Author: Hichens, Robert Smythe, 1864-1950
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Bye-Ways" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



BYE-WAYS

by

ROBERT HICHENS

Author of "The Garden of Allah,"
"Bella Donna," etc.



New York
Dodd, Mead and Company
1914

Copyright, 1897,
By Dodd, Mead and Company.



CONTENTS


                                                           PAGE

  THE CHARMER OF SNAKES                                       3

  A TRIBUTE OF SOULS

    Prelude                                                  89

      I. The Stranger by the Burn                            90

     II. The Soul of Dr Wedderburn                          111

    III. The Soul of Kate Walters                           131

     IV. The Soul of Hugh Fraser                            142

      V. The Return of the Grey Traveller                   159
         Written in conjunction with
         Lord Frederick Hamilton.

  AN ECHO IN EGYPT                                          171

  THE FACE OF THE MONK                                      211

  THE MAN WHO INTERVENED                                    237

  AFTER TO-MORROW                                           267

  A SILENT GUARDIAN                                         287

  A BOUDOIR BOY                                             319

  THE TEE-TO-TUM                                            343



BYE-WAYS



THE CHARMER OF SNAKES


I

The petulant whining of the jackals prevented Renfrew from sleeping. At
first he lay still on his camp bed, staring at the orifice of the bell
tent, which was only partially covered by the canvas flap let down by
Mohammed, after he had bidden his master good-night. Behind the tent the
fettered mules stamped on the rough, dry ground, and now and then the
heavy rustling of a wild boar could be heard, as it shuffled through the
scrub towards the water that lay in the hollow beyond the camp. The
wayward songs of the Moorish attendants had died into silence. They
slept, huddled together and shrouded in their djelabes. But their
wailing rapture of those old triumphant days when on the heights above
Granada, beneath the eternal snows, their brethren walked as conquerors,
had been succeeded by the cries of the uneasy beasts that throng the
mountains between Tangier and Tetuan. And Renfrew said to himself that
the jackals kept him from sleeping. He lay still and wondered if Claire
were awake in her tent close by. If so, if her dark eyes were unclouded,
what journeys must her imagination be making! She was so sensitive to
sound of any kind. A cry moved her sometimes with a swift violence that
alarmed those around her. The message of a note of music shut one door
on her soul, opened another, and let her in to strange regions in which
she chose to be lonely.

How amazing it was to think that Claire, with all her serpentine beauty,
all her celebrity, all the legends that clung to her fame, all the wild
caprices of which two worlds had talked for years,--that Claire was
hidden away three feet off, beneath the canvas shield that looked like a
moderate-sized mushroom from the Kasbar on the hill. How amazing to
think she was no longer Claire Duvigne, but Claire Renfrew. Her cheated
audiences sighed in London in which a week ago she was acting. And while
they sighed, she slept in this wild valley of Morocco, or lay awake and
heard the jackals whining among the dwarf palms. And she was his. She
belonged to him. He had the right to hold her--this thin, pale wonder of
night and of fame--in his arms, and to kiss the lips from which came at
will the coo of a dove or the snarl of a tigress. Although Renfrew could
not sleep, he fell into a dream. Indeed, ever since he had married
Claire, a week ago, his life had been a dream. When the goddess suddenly
bends down to the worshipper, and says: "Don't pray to me any more--sit
on my throne by my side!"--the worshipper exchanges one form of devotion
for another, so deep and so different that for a while his ordinary
faculties seem frozen, his life goes in shadowy places. Renfrew was not
a man of deep imagination, but he had enough of the dangerous and dear
quality to make him full of interest in Claire's bonfires of the mind.
He sunned himself in the sparks which flew from her, even as the
phlegmatic man in the pit bathes in the fury of some queen of the stage.
He adored partly because he scarcely understood.

And then, at this moment, he was in the throes of a most unexpected
honeymoon. Claire, after refusing to have anything to do with him for
two years or more, had suddenly married him in such a hurry that, though
London gasped, Renfrew gasped still more. She had sent for him one
night, from her dressing-room, between the third act and the fourth of
an angry drama of passion. He came in and found her sitting in an
arm-chair by a table, on which lay a note containing his last proposal,
and a dagger with which she was about to commit a stage murder that had
carried her glory to the four quarters of the universe. Her face was
covered with powder, and in her long white dress she looked like a
phantom. As she spoke to him, she ran her thin fingers mechanically up
and down the blade of the dagger. When Renfrew was in the room, and the
door shut, she looked up at him and said:--

"Desmond, I'm going to frighten you more than I shall frighten the
audience out there."

And she pointed towards the hidden stage.

"How?" he said, looking at her hand and at the dagger.

"I'm going to marry you."

Renfrew turned paler than she was.

"Ah!" she cried. "You go white?"

"No, no," he murmured. "But--but I can't believe it."

"I will marry you when you like, to-morrow, whenever you can get a
licence."

"Oh, Claire!"

Suddenly she got up.

"Take me away from here," she said. "From this heat and noise. Take me
to some place where it is wild and desolate. I want to be in starlight,
with people who know nothing of me, and my trumpery talent. O God,
Desmond, you don't know how a woman can get to hate being famous! I
should like to act to-night to a circle of savages who had never heard
of me and of my glory."

"Curtain's up!" sang a shrill voice outside.

Claire picked up the dagger.

"Well?" she said. "Shall it be--?"

"Ah, yes--yes!" Renfrew answered in a choked voice.

She smiled and glided out, like a white snake, he thought.

And now--yes, those were really jackals whining, and Claire slept,
surrounded by a circle of Moors under the stars of Morocco.

Renfrew trembled at the astounding surprises of life. Now the devil of
the night--thought--had filled his veins with fever. He got up softly,
drew on his clothes, unfastened the canvas flap, and emerged, like a
shadow, from the mouth of the tent. The night was dewy and cool. All the
heaven was full of eyes. The line of tethered mules looked like a black
hedge in whose shelter the group of tents was pitched. A low fire, held
in a cup of earth, was dying down in the distance, and as Renfrew came
out a lanky dog slunk off among the bushes that clothed the low hills on
every side.

Renfrew stood quite still. He was bare-headed, and the breeze caught at
his thick brown hair, and seemed to tug it like a rough child at play
with a kindly elder. His eyes were turned towards the tiny peaked tent
which shrouded Claire. A small moon half way up the sky sent out a beam
which faintly illuminated this home of a wanderer, and Renfrew thought
the beam was like a silver finger pointing at this wonderful creature
whom glory had so long attended. Such beings must walk in light. Nature
herself protests against their endeavours to shroud themselves even for
a moment in darkness. He drew close to the tent, and listened for
Claire's low breathing. But he could not hear it. Perhaps she was awake
then.

"Claire!" he called, in a low voice.

There was no answer. Renfrew hesitated and glanced round the little
camp. It was just then that he noticed the absence of two figures which
had been standing like statues near his tent when he went to bed. These
were soldiers sent from the nearest village to guard the camp from
marauders during the night. Clad in earth-coloured rags, shrouded in
loose robes that looked like musty dressing-gowns, with fez on head, and
musket in hand, they had seemed devoutly intent on doing their duty
then. But now--where were they? Renfrew strolled among the tents,
expecting to find them squatting near the fire smoking cigarettes, or
playing some Spanish game of cards. But they had vanished. He returned,
and posted himself again by the door of Claire's rude bed-room, saying
to himself that he would be her guard. Those Moorish vagabonds had
deserted her. They cared nothing for the safety of this jewel, whom the
whole civilised world cherished. But in his heart glowed a passion of
protection for her. And then he gazed again at the impenetrable canvas
wall that divided him from her. Only two hours ago he had held her in
his arms and kissed her lips, yet already he felt as if a river of years
flowed between them. He began to torture himself deliberately, as lovers
will, by the imagination of non-existent evils. Suppose Claire
possessed the power of a fairy, and could evaporate at will into the
spaces of the air, leaving no trace behind. She might then have
departed, have faded into the scented silence and darkness of this land
so strange and desolate. Renfrew supposed the departure an actual fact.
What a loneliness would fill his night then; if that little tent stood
empty, if that slim sleeper were removed from the camp round which the
jackals sat on their tiny haunches, whining like peevish spirits. He
trembled beneath the weight of this absurd supposition, revelling in the
intolerable with the folly of worship. Gradually he forced himself on
step by step along the fanciful path till he had assured his imagination
that Claire was really gone, and that he was just such a travelling
Englishman as may come alone across the Straits, take out a camp, and
spend his days in stalking wild boar, or shooting duck, his nights in
the heavy slumber of complete weariness. And, at length, having gained a
ghastly summit of imaginative despair, he suddenly stretched forth his
hand, unhooked the canvas that shrouded Claire's tent door, and peeped
cautiously in, courting the delicious revulsion of feeling which he
would secure when he saw her half defined form in the shadow of the
leaning roof that hid her from the stars.

He bent forward with greedy anxiety. But the pale and tragic face he
looked for, did not greet his eyes. The tent was empty.

Renfrew stood for a moment holding back the canvas flap with one hand.
This denial calmly offered to his expectation bewildered him. He was
confused, and for a moment scarcely thought at all. Then his mind broke
away with the violence of a dog unleashed, and ran a wild course of
surmises. He thought first of rousing the camp and organising an
immediate search. Then he remembered the absence of the two soldiers who
ought to be guarding the tents and the mules. Claire gone, those
soldiers absent! He linked the two facts together, and turned white and
sick. But he did not rouse the camp. Indeed, he thanked God that all the
men were sleeping. He sprang softly back from the tent, turned on his
heel, and stole out of the camp so silently that he scarcely seemed a
living thing. The ground towards the water was boggy and spongy, and the
scent of the thickly growing myrtles was heavy in the air. Renfrew
brushed through them swiftly. He heard the harsh snuffling of a boar,
and the tread of its feet in the mud at the water-side. And these sounds
filled the night with a sense of unknown dangers. Darkness, a wild
country, wild men, wild beasts, and his beautiful Claire out somewhere
alone, near him, perhaps, yet hidden behind the impenetrable veil of
darkness. He saw her fainting, struggling, crying out for him. He saw
her silent and dead, and frenzy seized him. She was not here by the
water. And with a gesture of despair he turned back. Low and rounded
hills faced him on all sides, covered with a dense undergrowth of palms
and close-growing shrubs that looked almost like black velvet in the
night. On one, the highest, was perched the native village from which
the soldiers had come. Dogs were barking in it incessantly. It seemed to
Renfrew that Claire might have been conveyed there by these ruffians;
and he began hastily to ascend in the direction of the dogs' acute
voices. He stumbled among the palms at first; but, mounting higher, he
came into the eye of the moon, and was swallowed up in a shrouded silver
radiance. The camp faded away below him, and he felt the breeze with
greater force. Yet its breath was warm. Could Claire feel it? Did she
see the moon? Now the dogs were evidently close by. The village must be
behind that big clump of trees. Renfrew sprang upward, passed through
them, suddenly drew a great breath and stood still.

Beyond the trees there was a small clearing that almost corresponded to
our English notion of a village green. On the near side of it was the
clump of trees in whose shadow Renfrew now stood. On the far side of it
was the Moorish village, a minute collection of low huts like hovels,
featureless and filthy. The moon streamed over the clearing and lit up
faintly a cluster of seated figures that formed a good-sized circle. The
figures looked broad and almost shapeless, for they were all smothered
in long, voluminous robes, and over all the heads great hoods were drawn
which hid the faces of the wearers. They were absolutely motionless, and
differed little from the more distant clumps of dwarf palms that grew
everywhere among the huts. Only they possessed the curiously sullen
aspect of things alive but entirely motionless. It was not this living
Stonehenge of Morocco, however, which caused Renfrew to catch his breath
and rooted him in the shadow. In the centre of the circle, lit up by the
moon, there stood something that might have been a phantom, it was so
thin, so tall, so white-faced, so strange in its movements. It was a
woman, and long black hair flowed down to its waist,--night standing
back from that moon, vague and spectral, the face. In this human night
and moon, great sombre eyes gleamed with a sort of fatigued beauty. This
spectre stretched out its long arms in weird gesticulations and
sometimes swayed its body as if it moved to music. And from its lips
came a soft and liquid stream of golden words that mingled with the acid
barking of the dogs, some of which crept furtively about on the
outskirts of the serene hooded circle of the listeners. This murmuring
spectre was Claire. She was girt about with silently staring Moors. And
she was in the act of delivering one of her most famous recitations,
which she had last given at a monster morning performance before
Royalties in London, on a sultry day of the season. As this fact broke
upon Renfrew's mind, he seemed for a moment to be back in the hot
dressing-room in which Claire had said: "I will marry you." He seemed to
hear her passionate exclamation: "I should like to act to-night to a
circle of savages!" The hill men of this part of Morocco may not be
savages, but they are fierce and wild and ruthless. And now they hung
upon the lips that had spoken to London, Paris, Vienna, New York--but
never before to such an audience as this. The recitation was a
description of the performance of a snake-charmer, his harangue to his
reptiles and to the crowd watching him, and his departure into the
solitude of the great desert, there to obtain, in communion with its
spirit, the power to work greater miracles, and to charm not alone the
serpents that dwell among the rocks and in the forests, but also men,
women, little children,--the power to thrust a human world into a kennel
of plaited straw, to take it out in sections at pleasure, and to make it
dance, pose, and posture, like a viper tamed into a species of
ballet-dancer. In this recitation the peculiar and almost serpentine
fascination of Claire had full liberty. She represented the
snake-charmer as a being who through long and intimate association with
snakes had become like them, lithe, fantastic, and unexpected, soft and
deadly, by turns sleepy and violent, a coil of glistening velvet and a
length of cast-iron, tipped with a poisoned fang and the music of a
hiss. His fanaticism, his greed for money, the passionate prayer to Sidi
Mahomet that flowed from his lips while his terrible eyes searched an
imaginary crowd in search of the richest man or the most excited woman
in it, his bursts of dancing humour, his deadly stillness, his playful
familiarity with his dangerous captives, his mesmeric anger when they
were sullen and recalcitrant, his relapse into the savage churchwarden
with the collecting box when his "show" was at an end,--every side,
every subtlety of such a creature Claire could give with the certainty
of genius. As you watched her, you beheld the snakes, you beheld their
master. Even at the end you almost saw the vast and trackless desert
open its haggard arms to receive its child, who passed from the crowd to
the silence in which alone he could learn to fascinate the crowd. At the
great morning performance in London, a prince who knew the East had said
to Claire, "Miss Duvigne, you must have lived with snake-charmers. You
must have studied them for months."

"I never saw one in my life," she answered truthfully.

And now she gave her performance to those who, in the dingy market
squares of their white-walled cities, had seen the snakes dance and had
heard the prayer to Sidi Mahomet. And they squatted in the moonbeams,
immobile as goblins carved in dusky oak. Yet they inspired Claire. From
his hiding place Renfrew could note this. She had let her genius loose
upon them, as she had let her cloud of hair loose upon her shoulders.
The frosty touch of smart conventionality bewilders and half paralyses
the utterly unconventional. Often Renfrew had heard Claire curse the
smiling and self-contented Londoners who thronged the stalls of her
theatre. She felt, with the swiftness of genius, the retarding hand they
laid upon her winged talents. She had no inclination to curse these
hooded figures gathered round her in the night, staring upon her with
the fixed concentration of children who behold, rather than hear, a
fairy tale, they paid her the fine compliment of an undivided attention.
It was a curious scene and one that stirred in Renfrew a deep
excitement. He watched it with a double sense, of living keenly and of
dreaming deeply. Claire gave to him the first sense, the moon and the
motionless Moors the second. But presently one of the hooded statues
stirred and swayed, and there mingled with the voice of Claire a twisted
melody, so thin and wandering that it was like a thread binding a bundle
of gold. It pierced the night, and enclosed the words of the reciter,
one sound prisoned by another lighter and less than itself. The dogs had
ceased to bark now, and only the voice that told of the snake-charmer's
journey into the desert, and this whispering Moorish tune, plucked by
dark fingers from the strings of a rough lute, moved in the night, till
Claire ceased. The lute continued for a few bars, like the symphony that
closes a song, and then it too ceased abruptly on a note that brought no
feeling of finale to modern ears. For an instant Claire stood motionless
in the centre of the human circle. Then her arms fell to her sides. She
moved swiftly towards the trees in whose shadow Renfrew was watching.
The Moors made a gap, and as she passed out all the shapeless figures
were suddenly elongated and crowded together upon her footsteps. As
Claire came into the blackness of the trees, Renfrew stretched out his
hand and clasped her arm. She stopped with no tremor, and faced him.

"Claire!"

"What, it is you, Desmond! I thought you were asleep."

"When you were awake? You have given me a fright. I came to your tent; I
found it empty. The soldiers were gone."

"They were guarding me up the hill. I could not sleep. I wandered out.
How hot your hand is!"

Renfrew released her. All the Moors had gathered round them like
enormous shadows.

"My audience has come to the stage door!" Claire said.

Her eyes were gleaming with excitement.

"They are a beautiful audience," she added; "and the orchestra, the
soft music--that was better than London fiddles."

"Come back to the camp, Claire."

"Very well."

He drew her arm through his, and led her out into the moonlight and down
the hill. Two shadows detached themselves from the silent assembly and
followed them, barefooted, over the dewy grass. They were the soldiers.
Claire looked back and saw them.

"I shall give those men a handful of pesetas, to-morrow," she said.

They reached the camp and sat down on two folding chairs in the shadow
of Claire's tent. The soldiers stood near, gazing intently at them.
Claire sat in a curved attitude. She had drawn a dark veil over her
hair, and her enormous and tragic eyes were turned sombrely on Renfrew.
She looked fatigued, as she often did after acting a long and passionate
part. To Renfrew she seemed more wonderful than ever. He could scarcely
believe that he was her husband.

"You have had your circle of savages," he said.

"Yes."

"And you liked them?"

"Do you think they liked me? I wonder if there was a snake-charmer among
them. When I came to Sidi Mahomet I thought perhaps they would kill me.
That thought made me pray better than I can in London."

"You could charm snakes more certainly than any Arab," Renfrew said.

"I daresay. Perhaps I shall try at Tetuan. Good-night, Desmond."

She vanished into the tent. It seemed that she evaporated as Sarah
Bernhardt evaporates in the fourth act of "La Tosca."


II

On the following day they rode across the mountain to Tetuan. They
started in the dawn. Claire's eyes were heavy. She came languidly out
from the tent door to mount her horse, and when she touched Renfrew he
felt that her hand was cold like an icicle. He looked at her anxiously.

"Are you ill?" he asked.

"No, Desmond."

He lifted her into the saddle.

"You haven't slept," he said.

She looked down at him as she slowly gathered up her reins.

"Unfortunately, I have," she replied.

Before Renfrew had time to express surprise at this unexpected
rejoinder, she had struck her horse with the whip, and trotted off over
the grass in the direction of the white Kasbar that gleamed on the hill
under the kiss of the rising sun. He leaped into the saddle, and
followed her. The path into which they came was narrow, winding through
wild fig-trees and olives, and constantly ascending. Claire did not turn
her head, and Renfrew could not ride by her side. He watched her thin
and sinuous figure swaying slightly in obedience to the motion of her
horse, which scrambled over the rough path with the activity of a wild
cat. In front of her their personal attendant, Mohammed, rode on a huge
grey mule, and sang to himself incessantly in a deep and murmuring
voice. Once or twice Renfrew spoke to Claire, but she did not seem to
hear him. He resolved to ask about her sleep when they gained some
plateau on which they could rest for a moment. At present it was
necessary to concentrate his attention on his horse and on the dangers
of the road.

When the sun was high in the heavens, and they were high on the
mountain, above a gorge in which the scrub grew densely, and great
bushes starred with yellow and white flowers hid the rocks and made a
home for birds, Mohammed called a halt. Renfrew lifted Claire to the
ground. The men passed on towards Tetuan with their camp, and Claire
sank down on a gay rug beneath the shade of a huge white umbrella, which
was pitched on a square of level ground and circled with luxuriant
vegetation. Renfrew lay at her feet and lit his pipe, while Mohammed,
the dragoman, and one of the porters squatted at a little distance, and
began to play cards in a cloud of keef. Claire was fanning herself
slowly with an enormous Spanish fan in which all gay colours met. She
still looked very tired. The shuffle of the descending mules died away
down the mountain, and a silence, through which the butterflies flitted,
fell round them.

"Is this journey too much for you, Claire?" Renfrew asked.

"No. I can rehearse for six hours in London, surely I can ride for six
here."

"But you look tired."

"Because, as I told you, I slept too much last night."

"What does that mean?"

She stretched herself on the rug with the easy grace of a woman who has
trained her body to carry to the eyes of others, as a message, all the
moods of passion and of peace. Then she leaned her cheek on her hand.

"In the darkness of the tent, Desmond, I slept and did not know it. I
believed that I lay awake. I thought I still could hear the jackals, and
the stamping of the mules. But, really, I slept."

"How do you know that?"

"Because of what I am going to tell you. The wind blew about the canvas
door, and when it bulged outwards I could see on each side of it a tiny
section of the night outside, a bit of a bush, blades of short grass
moving, a ray of the moon, the slinking shadow of one of the dogs from
the village."

"Yes."

"Presently there came, I thought, a stronger gust than usual. It tore
the canvas flap from the pegs, and the whole thing blew up, leaving the
entrance quite open. Then it blew down again. It was only up for a
minute. During that minute I had seen that a very tall man was standing
outside the tent."

"One of the soldiers."

"If I had been awake it might have been."

"You mean that all this was a dream?"

"I mean that I slept last night, and that I wish I hadn't."

She turned her great eyes on Renfrew, holding the red, green, and yellow
fan so that it concealed the lower part of her face. And he looked at
her, staring at him like some tragic stranger above the rampart of an
unknown city, and wondered whether she was acting to him in the sun. On
the forefinger of the hand that held up the fan a huge black pearl
perched in a circle of gold. Renfrew had often noticed it on the stage,
when Claire lifted the silver dagger to kill the man who loved her in
the play.

"The door of your tent was securely closed when I got up and came out
this morning," he said.

"Oh, yes."

She spoke with the utmost indifference. Then she added more sharply:--

"Desmond, has it ever occurred to you that I am serpentine?"

He was startled and made no answer.

"Well--has it?"

"Yes," he said truthfully.

"Why?"

"Every one thinks so. You are so thin. You move so silently. Your body
is so elastic and controlled. You always look as if you could glide into
places where other women could never go, and be at home in attitudes
they could never assume."

"But I'm an actress--my body is trained, you know, to lie, to fall, as I
choose."

"Other actresses don't give one the same impression."

"No," she said thoughtfully. "My peculiar physique has a great deal to
do with it."

"Of course, and there's something more than that, something mental."

Claire's heavy eyes grew more thoughtful. The white lids fluttered lower
over them till they looked like the eyes of one half asleep. She lay in
silence, plunged in a reverie that was deep and dark. In this reverie
she forgot to move her fan, which dropped from her hand and fell softly
upon the rug. Renfrew did not interrupt her. His worship had learned to
wait upon her moods. A huge dragon-fly passed on its journey towards the
far blue range of the Atlas Mountains. It whirred in its haste, and its
burnished body shone in the sunshine between its gleaming wings. Claire
snatched at it with her hand, but missed it.

"I should like to wear it as a jewel," she said.

Then she turned slowly again towards Renfrew, and continued her nocturne
as if it had never been broken off.

"The canvas flap fell down again over the doorway, Desmond, and it
seemed that just then the breeze died away, expiring in that angry gust.
I could not see anything but the interior of the tent, and only that
very dimly. But this man outside. I wanted to see him."

"Did you recognise that he was not one of the soldiers, then?"

"Perfectly. He was not dressed as they are. They were entirely muffled
up with hoods drawn forward above their faces. And in their hands one
could see their guns. This man was bareheaded, and looked half naked.
And in his hands--"

She stopped meditatively.

"Was there anything in his hands?"

"Well--yes, there was."

"What?"

"I wanted to know what it was. But at first I only lay quite still and
wished the wind would come again and blow the flap up so that I could
see out. But it had quite gone down. The canvas did not even quiver."

"Was it near dawn?"

"I haven't an idea. Does the breeze sink then?"

"Very often."

"Ah! Perhaps it was then. Oh, but you'll see in a minute what nonsense
it is to think about that. I lay still, as I said, for some time,
waiting for the breeze. And when it wouldn't come, I made up my mind
that I must arrive at a decision either to turn my face on the pillow
and go to sleep, or else to get up, go to the tent door, and look out."

"To see this man?"

"Exactly."

"Which did you do?"

"Turned my face on the pillow."

"And went off to sleep?"

"No, grew most intensely awake--as I supposed. The pillow was like fire
against my cheek. It burnt me. With the departure of the breeze the
night had become suddenly most intolerably hot. I turned over on my back
and lay like that. Then I felt as if there was sand on the sheets."

"Sand! Impossible! We aren't in the desert."

"No. But it seemed as if I lay in hot sand. I shifted my position, but
it made no difference. I sat up. The tent door was still closed. I
listened. All those dogs had ceased to bark. There wasn't a sound. Even
the jackals had left off whining. Then I slipped out of bed and threw
that rose-coloured Moorish cloak over me. It rustled just like a thing
rustles in grass, Desmond."

She looked at him with a sort of peculiar significance, and as if she
expected him to gather something definite from the remark.

"A thing in grass," he repeated, wondering. "What sort of thing?"

But Claire avoided the question. She had taken up the fan again, and was
opening and shutting it with a quiet and careful sort of precision, as
she went on in a low and even voice:--

"I disliked this rustling, and held the cloak tightly together with my
hands. I felt as if the man outside the tent had been waiting to hear
that very little noise."

"The rustling?"

"Yes. And that when he heard it he smiled to himself. I didn't intend he
should hear it again though, and as I glided towards the tent door, I
held the cloak very tight and away from my body. And I don't think I can
have made any noise. You know how softly I can move when I choose?"

"Yes."

"When I got to the door, I waited. I couldn't hear the man; but I felt
that he was still there, just on the other side of the flap."

Renfrew leaned forward on the rug. He felt deeply interested, perhaps
only because Claire was the narrator. She held him much as she could
hold an audience in a theatre, by her pose, her hands, her pale, almost
weary face, her heavy sombre eyes, even more than by any words she
chanced to be uttering. She could make anything seem vitally important
if she chose, simply by her manner. Renfrew's pipe had gone out; but he
did not know it, and still kept it between his lips.

"I waited for some time by the flap," Claire continued calmly. "I was
going to lift it presently, I knew; but I could not do it at once. The
man and I were standing, I suppose, for full five minutes only divided
by that strip of canvas. I tried not to breathe audibly, and I could not
hear him breathe. At last I resolved to see him, and considered how I
should do so. If I remained standing and looked out, I should have to
push the flap quite away and my eyes would be nearly on a level with
his. He would certainly see me. I didn't wish that. I didn't intend at
all that he should see me. Therefore I resolved to lie down."

"On the ground?"

"Yes, quite flat, and to raise the bottom of the flap gently an inch or
two. This would enable me to see him without being seen, if I did it
without noise. I dropped down quite softly. Do you remember my death in
'Camille'?"

Renfrew nodded.

"Almost like that. But the rose-coloured stuff rustled again. I wished I
hadn't put it on. I raised the flap very slightly and peeped out. Do
you know what I felt like just then, Desmond?"

"What?"

"Just like a snake in ambush. When my cloak rustled, it was the grass
against my body. I lay in cover, and could see my enemy like a creature
in a forest, or a reptile in scrub."

She glanced round at the bushes and the densely growing palms.

"Yes, I lay there like a snake in the grass."

She stretched herself out on the rug as she spoke, with her head towards
Renfrew and her eyes fastened on his.

"I saw first the feet of the man close to my eyes. His feet were almost
black and bare. His legs were bare. My glance travelled up him, and I
saw that his chest and his arms were bare too. He was clothed in a sort
of loose rough garment, the colour of sacking, that fell into a kind of
hood behind; and he looked enormously powerful. That struck me very
much--his power."

"Did you see his face?"

"Quite well. It was the face of a man watching and listening with the
closest attention. He was smiling slightly, too, as if something that
had just happened had satisfied him. I knew he had heard the rustle of
my robe as I slipped to the ground."

"But why should that please him?"

"It told him that I was there, that I was attentive too."

Renfrew's face slightly darkened.

"As I looked, I saw what he was holding in his hands."

"What was it--a dagger--a staff?"

"A serpent."

Renfrew could not repress an exclamation.

"Very large and striped. Its skin was like shot silk in the moonlight.
It writhed softly between his hands, and turned its flat head from side
to side. It seemed to be trying to bend down towards where I lay. Its
tongue shot out like a length of riband out of one of those wooden
winders that you buy in cheap shops. I should think its body was quite
five feet long, and its colour seemed to change as it turned about.
Sometimes it was pink, then it looked dull green and almost black. Once
it wriggled down so near to the ground that I could see two fangs in its
open mouth like hooks, and the roof of its mouth was flesh colour."

"How abominable!" said Renfrew, softly.

"I didn't feel it so at all," Claire said. "I wanted it to come to
me,--back into the grass where such things are safe. But the man
wouldn't let it go. He thrust it into his breast. He wanted to have his
hands free."

"Good God, Claire--what for? Did he--?"

She smiled at his sudden violence, which showed his interest.

"When the snake was safe, he drew out, still smiling and listening, a
little pipe that looked as if it were made of straw, very common and
dirty. He held it up to his black lips, and began to play very softly
and sleepily. Desmond, the tune he played was charmed. It was a tune
composed--for--for--"

She broke off.

"You know the Pied Piper had his tune," she said; "the rats had to
follow it. Well, this tune was for the serpents."

"To charm them you mean?"

"Wisely--dangerously--almost irresistibly, perhaps in time, Desmond,
quite, quite irresistibly. There is a music for all creatures, all
reptiles, birds,--everything that lives; this was for the snakes."

"Well, but, Claire, how did you know that?"

She looked at him with a sort of dull amusement and pity in her
half-shut eyes.

"Shall I tell you?"

"Yes."

"I knew it, because the tune charmed me, Desmond."

"Ah, you are acting! I half suspected it from the first," Renfrew
exclaimed almost roughly.

He sat up as a man who has been lying under a spell stirs when the spell
is broken. Now he knew that his pipe was out, and he felt for his
match-box. But Claire still kept her eyes fixed on him, and laid her
hand on his arm gently.

"No, I am not acting," she said. "The tune charmed me. You see I am a
woman; and there are many women who feel at moments that what attracts
some special creature, thing, of the so-called world without a soul,
attracts them too. Some men can whistle a woman as they would a dog,
can't they?"

"Perhaps."

"Yes, and some men can charm a woman as they could charm a serpent."

"I don't understand you, Claire."

"You don't choose to. The animal is in us all, hidden deftly by Nature,
the artful dodger of the scheme of creation, Desmond; and we know it
when the right tune is played to summon it from its slumber in the nest
of the human body. Only the right tune can waken it."

"The animal! But--"

"Or the reptile, perhaps. What does it matter? This was the right tune
for me. I lay there like a snake in the grass and it thrilled me! And
all the time the black man smiled and listened for the rustling at his
feet. You look black, Desmond! How absurd of you to be angry!"

And she closed her fingers over his hand till the frown died out of his
face.

"The tune seemed to draw me to the man. I understood just how he had
captured the serpent that lay hidden in his bosom. It had once lain in
ambush as I lay now, long ago perhaps, in the desert among the rocks, on
the sand, Desmond."

"Ah, the sand!" he said, remembering suddenly the strange feeling
Claire had described as coming upon her when she was trying to sleep.

"Yes. And he had drawn it from the sand to the oasis among the palms
where he stood playing, till he heard its rustling in the grass about
his feet, as it glided nearer to him, and nearer, and nearer, till at
last it reared up its body, and wound up him and round him, and laid its
flat head between his great hands. Yes, that was how it came."

"You fancy."

"I know. But I would not go. I determined that I would not, and I lay
perfectly still. But all the time I longed to go. I had an almost
irresistible passion for movement towards that tune. It seemed to me a
stream of music into which I yearned to plunge, and drown and die. And
it flowed up there at the man's lips! The longing increased as he piped
the tune, over and over and over again, almost under his breath. I was
sick with it, and it hurt me because I resisted it. And at last I knew
that resisting it would kill me. I must either go, or not go, and die.
There was no alternative. That music simply claimed me. It had the right
to. And if I denied that right I should cease. I did deny it."

She shuddered in the sun, then added, almost harshly:--

"Like a fool."

"And then, Claire, then--?"

"It seemed to me that I died in most horrible pain. I lived once more
when you said, outside my tent, 'Claire, time to get up.' You see, I
slept too much last night."

And again she shuddered. A look of relief shot into Renfrew's face.

"All this came from your mad performance to those Moors," he said. "You
impersonate so vividly that even sleep cannot release your genius, and
bring it out from the world which you have deliberately forced it to
enter."

"But, Desmond, I impersonated the charmer of the snake, not the snake
itself."

"Oh, in a dream the mind always wanders a little from the event that has
caused the dream. It is like a faulty mimic who strives to reproduce
with exactitude and slightly fails. Time to go, Absalem?"

The dragoman had come up.

As they rode down the mountain a strange thing occurred, strange at
least in connection with Claire's narrative of the night. Mohammed, who
was riding just in front of them, pulled up his mule beside a thicket at
the wayside, and, turning his head, signed to them to be silent. Then,
pursing his lips, he whistled a shrill little tune. In a moment an
answer came from the thicket; Claire glanced at Renfrew with a slight
smile. Here was a sort of side light of reality thrown upon her dream
and upon their conversation. Mohammed whistled again. The echo followed.
And then suddenly a bird flew out, almost into his face, and, startled,
swerved and darted away across the gorge into the dense woods beyond.

"A charm of birds," Claire murmured to Renfrew, as they rode on. "The
summoning tune--what can resist it?"

"Claire," he said, almost reproachfully, "you speak like a fatalist."

"And I believe I am one," she answered. "Destiny is not only a phantom
but also a fact. Mine is marked out for me and known--"

"To whom? Not to yourself?"

"Oh, no!"

"To whom then?"

"To the hidden force that directs all things."

"I am your destiny."

"Ah, Desmond--or Morocco. I feel to-day as if I shall never see England
again, or a civilised audience such as I have known."

And then she seemed to fall into a waking dream. Even Renfrew felt
drowsy, the air was so intensely hot and the motion of the horses so
monotonous. And Mohammed's deep voice was never silent. It buzzed like a
bourdon in the glare of the noontide, till, far away on the hill-side,
they saw white Tetuan facing the plain, the river moving stagnantly
towards the sea, the great fields of corn in which strange flowers grew,
and the giant range of shaggy mountains, swimming in a mist of gold that
looked like spangled tissue.


III

The camp was pitched beyond the city in the green plain that lies
between Tetuan and the sea. From the tents Renfrew and Claire saw the
trains of camels and donkeys passing slowly along the high road towards
the steep and stony hill that leads up to the lower city gate, the
white-washed summer palaces of the wealthy Moors, nestling in gardens,
among green fields and groves of acacias, olives and almond trees, the
far-off line of blue water on the one hand and the fairy-like and ivory
town upon the other. Clouds of brown dust flew up in the air, and the
hoarse cry of "Balak! Balak!" made a perpetual and distant music. Far
more strange and barbarous was this city than Tangier. All traces of
Europe had faded away. Thousands of years seemed now to stand like a
wall between the Continents, and the hordes of dark and fanatical
Moslems gazed upon the great actress and her husband as we gaze at wild
animals whose aspects and whose habits are strange to us.

"I know now what it is to feel like an unclean dog," Claire said, as
they sat at dinner under the stars that night, after their halting
progress through the filthy alleys of the white fairyland on the
hill-side. "It is a grand sensation. I suppose children enjoy it, too.
That must be why they like making mud-pies."

"To-morrow is market-day, Absalem tells me," Renfrew said. "We will
spend it in the town, and you can feel unclean to your heart's
content--you!"

He looked at her and laughed low, with the pride of a lover in a
beautiful woman who is his own.

"They ought to fall down and worship you," he said.

"Moors worship a woman! Desmond, you are mad!"

"No, they are--they are. See, Claire, the moon is coming up already. Can
it be shining on Piccadilly too, and on the façade of the theatre?"

"The theatre! I can't believe I shall ever see it again."

"Nonsense!"

"Is it? This wild country seems to have swallowed me up, and I don't
feel as if it will ever disgorge me again. Desmond, perhaps there are
some lands that certain people ought never to visit. For those lands
love them, and, once they have seized their prey, they will never yield
it up again. Poor men must often feel that when they are dying in
foreign places. It is the land which has taken them to itself as an
octopus takes a drifting boat in a lonely sea. Africa!"

She had risen from her seat and moved out into the vague plain. Renfrew
followed her.

"I wonder in which direction the desert lies nearest," she said. "All
the strange people come in from the desert, as the strange things of
life come in from the future, only one so seldom hears the tinkling
bells of those deadly silent caravans in which they travel. If we could
hear and see them coming, what emotions we should have!"

"There are premonitions, some men say," Renfrew answered.

"The faint bells of the caravans ringing,--do you ever hear them?"

"No, Claire--never. And you?"

"I half thought I did once."

"When was that?"

"Last night. Hark! The men have finished supper and are beginning to
sing. That's a song about dancing."

"To-morrow we are going to feast the soldiers, and have an African
fire."

"Splendid! I think I will leap through the flames."

Renfrew put his arm round her.

"No, no. They might singe your beauty. And yet, you are a flame too. You
have burnt your name, yourself, like a brand upon my heart."

The dancing song rang up in the moonlight like the wailing of dead
masqueraders. All Moorish songs are sad and thrilling, fateful and
pregnant with unrest and with forebodings.

With the daylight the Jews came, in their long and morose garments and
black skull-caps, bearing bales of embroideries, slippers, and uncut
jewels. When they saw the wonderful black pearl upon Claire's finger
their huge eyes flamed with an avarice so fierce and open that Renfrew
instinctively moved between them and Claire, as if to guard her from
assault.

But the wonderful pearl was not for them.

The sun blazed furiously when they got upon their horses to ride to the
Soko. Each day the season was growing hotter, and Absalem told them that
there were no English in Tetuan. Nor did they set eyes on a European
woman until that day when Renfrew rode back, crouching along his horse,
to the villas of Tangier.

Tetuan has more than one open mouth, and when it swallows you the
contemplation of a fairyland is immediately exchanged for a desperate
reality of populous filth, stentorian uproar, uneven boulders, beggars,
bazaars like rabbit hutches, men and children pitted with small-pox till
they appear scarcely human, lepers, Jews, pirates from the Riff
Mountains, fanatics from the Ape's Hill, water-carriers, veiled,
waddling women, dogs like sharp shadows, and monkeys that appear and
vanish in sinister doorways with the rapidity and gestures of demons. On
a market-day the city is so full that it seems as if the circling and
irregular white walls must burst and disgorge the clamouring and
gesticulating inhabitants into the tranquil plain below. Claire surveyed
this blanched hell with a still serenity, as she had often surveyed an
applauding audience at the close of her evening's task, ere she thanked
them with the curious gesture, that was almost a salaam, in which
humility and a remote pride mingled. Noise generally gave her calm; and
when passion broke from her she taught the world to be intensely silent.
These alleys became like a dream to her, and the tiny interiors of the
bazaars were little histories of visionary lives, some, but only a few,
mysteriously beautiful. One, in a very dark place where, for some
unknown cause, all voices died away till the hot air was full of a
whispering stillness, brought slow tears to Claire's eyes. In the Street
of the Slippers she passed a cupboard of wood raised high from the
pavement, with low roof, leaning walls, and, in front, a little bar like
that which fences an English baby in its chair before the fire. In this
cupboard squatted two tiny Moorish infants, sole occupants of the
cupboard, with solemn faces, bending to ply their trade of pricking
patterns upon rose-coloured Morocco leather. There was no beauty in the
cupboard, sweetness of light, or ease. And the faces of the little boys
were sad and elderly. But, placed carefully between them, was an ugly
three-legged stool, on which stood two dwarf earthen jars containing two
sprigs of orange flower, and, as Claire looked, one of the babes laid
down his leather, lifted his jar, sniffed, with a sort of gentle
resignation, at his flower, and then resumed his diligent labours,
refreshed perhaps, and strengthened. In the action Claire seemed to
catch sight of a little pallid soul striving to exist feebly among the
slippers.

"Did you see?" she cried to Renfrew, when the baby shoemakers were lost
to sight.

He nodded.

"I wish I were a Moorish woman, Desmond."

"Good Heaven! Why!"

"So that I could kiss the infant who smelt the orange flower in his own
language. Little artist!"

Her sudden blaze of enthusiasm was checked by the infernal Soko into
which they now entered. In this unpaved square, upon which the pitiless
sun beat, the earth seemed to have come alive, to have formed itself
into a thousand vague semblances of human figures, and to be shrieking,
moving, twisting, gesticulating, as if striving to impart a thousand
abominable secrets till now hidden from the world that walks upon its
surface. As snow-men resemble the snow, so did these bargainers, these
buyers, sellers, barterers, pedlars, resemble the baked earth on which
they squatted. Shrouded in earth-coloured garments, they shrieked,
strove, rang their bells, kicked their donkeys, elbowed their rivals,
pommelled their camels, recited the Koran, or testified with frenzy, the
terrific honesty of all their dealings. Here and there tents made of
mud-coloured rags cast a grotesque shadow, in which broad women, hidden
by veils like sacks, and dominated by straw hats a yard wide, sat
huddled together and pecked at by wandering fowls. Jew boys, with long
and expressive faces, their black hair plastered upon their foreheads in
fringes that touched their eyes, strolled through the mob in batches,
some of them reading in little books. Soudanese slave girls carried
bouquets of orange flowers. In a corner some Hawadji were leaping
monotonously to the thunder of a Moorish drum made of baked earth and of
parchment. A sheep, escaped from the slaughterer, tumbled with piteous
bleatings into a group of half breeds, Spanish Moors, who were playing
cards near a stall covered with raw meat and great lumps of some
substance that looked like lard. On a huge heap of rotten oranges and
decaying fish, over which millions of flies swarmed, a number of
children in close white caps were moving in some mysterious game in
which two prowling cats occasionally took an unintentional part. Some
Riff Arabs, fierce as tigers, tall and half-naked, stalked feverishly
towards a water-carrier whose lean form, tottering with age, was almost
eclipsed beneath the monstrous bladder he bore incessantly through the
multitude. The horses of Renfrew and of Claire could scarcely plant
their hoofs on anything that was not moving, crying, panting, or
cursing; and they pulled up, and prepared to descend into this human
ocean of which all the waves roared in their deafened ears. As Claire
leant to Renfrew, who stretched his arms to help her, she said to him:--

"Can you swim? If not, you will certainly be drowned."

"You must not be. Cling to my arm."

They sank together to their necks in the sea. In whatever direction they
looked, they saw a mass of heads, an infinite expanse of shouting
mouths. But suddenly the pressure became extraordinary, the uproar
ear-splitting. And with the voices there mingled a piercing music like a
continuous screech. People began to run, to trample in one direction.
The drum of the leaping Hawadji was drowned by a louder drumming that
came from the centre of the square. Children squeaked with excitement.
The Riffians forgot to drink, and slid forward with the cushioned feet
of animals in a jungle. A tempest arose, and in it a whirlpool formed.
It seemed that Renfrew and Claire must be torn in pieces.

"What on earth is happening?" Renfrew exclaimed to Absalem, with the
English anger our countrymen always display when trodden by a foreign
element.

Absalem smiled with airy dignity, and moved forward, beckoning them to
follow.

"Miracle man, all want see him," he remarked. "Great miracle man."

With consummate adroitness he drew them with him to the edge of the
whirlpool. As they reached it, Renfrew felt that Claire's hand suddenly
tightened upon his arm until his flesh puckered between her fingers as
the flesh of a rabbit puckers in a trap. He glanced at her in
astonishment. Her eyes were fixed on something, or some one, beyond
them, even beyond Absalem, who was forcing people out of their way with
his powerful arms and back. Renfrew followed her eyes, and saw the
centre of the whirlpool.

This mass of humanity had now assumed the form of a rough circus, the
ring of which was kept clear. And in this ring a strange figure had just
appeared with upraised arms, and a manner of wild, even of frantic,
authority. This was a gigantic man, almost black, half-naked, with long
arms, furious eyes, and legs which, though muscular, tapered at the
ankles like the legs of a finely bred race-horse. His head was shaved in
front; but at the back the black hair grew in a long and waving lock,
and his features, magnificently cut, might have been those of a grand
European of some headstrong and high-couraged race. Upon this man
Claire's eyes were fixed, with an expression so strange and knowing that
Renfrew turned on her with a sharp exclamation.

"Claire! Claire!"

She slowly withdrew her eyes.

"Yes, Desmond."

A question stammered on his lips; but as she smiled at him, he felt the
mad absurdity of it, and was silent.

"Well, Desmond, what is it?"

"Nothing," he answered.

Absalem now claimed their attention. He was determined that they should
be in the front of the crowd, and ruthlessly pushed away the Moors who
had obtained the best places, pointing at Claire and Renfrew, and wildly
vociferating their mighty rank and enormous wealth. The staring mob gave
way; and in a moment Claire and the miracle man stood face to face. His
frenzied eyes had no sooner seen her than he too fell upon the
surrounding natives, thrusting them violently to one side, and cursing
them for daring to draw near to the great English gentleman and lady. In
the whole mighty mob these two were the only Europeans, and they
attracted as universal an attention as two Aztecs would in a Bank
Holiday gathering at the Crystal Palace. Renfrew could now see that the
screeching music came from one side of the ring, where a couple of men,
clothed in filthy rags, were sitting on the ground, one playing a long
pipe of straw, the other beating an enormous drum. Immediately behind
them a very old man, evidently a maniac, swayed his body violently
backwards and forwards, and at regular intervals uttered a loud and
chuckling cry that might have been the ejaculation of a tipsy
school-boy, and came strangely from withered lips hanging loose with
weakness and with age. This dancing Methuselah caught Renfrew's
attention; and, for the moment, he forgot to look at the miracle man. A
general outcry from the multitude made him turn his head. He saw then
that the miracle man held in his huge hands a sort of kennel of straw,
the mouth of which was closed with a movable flap. Lifting this aloft,
he sprang wildly round the ring, vociferating some words at the top of
his voice; then, suddenly casting it down, he flung himself upon the
ground, which he beat with his forehead, while he shrieked out a prayer
to his patron saint for protection in the great miracle which he was
about to perform.

"What is he doing?" Renfrew asked of Absalem.

"Don't you know?" Claire said.

Her eyes were gleaming with excitement as they stared at the salaaming
figure that grovelled at their feet.

"No. How should I?"

"He is praying to Sidi Mahomet," she said.

And then she looked at Renfrew. He understood. At that moment, despite
the excessive heat engendered by the blazing sun and the pressure of the
crowd, he turned very cold, as if his body was plunged in glacier water.
He thought of the tall figure that had stood before Claire's tent door
in the moonbeams, the lips that had coaxed from the pipe the tune that
charmed all serpents,--that right tune that they must follow, which drew
them from the desert sands to the grass of the oasis, till they wound up
the body of this gaunt and tremendous savage, and hid themselves in his
hairy bosom. This miracle man, then, was a snake-charmer, and Claire had
divined it at once. How? Renfrew put the question quickly.

"How did I know? He is the man who played outside my tent in the night,
Desmond."

"The very man! Impossible."

"The very man."

"Then you were not asleep, not dreaming?"

"How can one tell? Hush!"

She spoke in the low voice of one whose attention is becoming
concentrated, and who cannot endure the interruption. The charmer had
now finished his petition to his god, and, standing up, thrust into his
mouth a handful of some green herb, which he chewed and swallowed. Then
his whole manner abruptly changed. The frenzy died out of his eyes. A
calm suffused his tall and muscular body till it became strangely
statuesque. His lips slowly smiled, and he raised his hands towards the
glaring sky with a sublime gesture of gratitude.

"What an actor!" Renfrew heard Claire murmur softly.

He, too, had become intensely engrossed by this man in whom he, from
this moment, began to see Claire: the exquisite woman whom the civilised
world worshipped in the mighty savage who came from the remote depths of
Morocco; the white being who played with the minds of the capitals of
Europe, in the black being who played with the reptiles of the desert
and of the jungle. For Claire, guided by the spirit that ever goes
before genius bearing the torch, had instinctively divined what she had
never known. In London it seemed that she had entered into the very soul
of this man who now stood before her. She had caught the wild graces of
his bearing. She had reproduced his smile, so full of secrets and of
power. She had moved as he did. She had been motionless as now he was
motionless. In the sun she stood at this moment and beheld the reality
of which she had been the magnificent reflection. And Renfrew felt his
heart oppressed, as if clouds were closing round him.

Now the snake-charmer looked slowly all round the great circle of
watching faces until his eyes rested on Claire. He had taken the straw
kennel into his hands, and he softly lifted the flap, and turned it flat
upon the top of the kennel, leaving the mouth open. Then he thrust one
hand into this mouth, and withdrew it, holding a writhing snake whose
striped satin skin changed colour in the sunshine, turning from pink to
green, from green to black.

"It is the snake I saw," Claire whispered to Renfrew.

He did not reply. He seemed fascinated by the savage and the serpent.
Holding the snake at arm's length, the charmer walked softly round the
circle, collecting money from the crowd. He stopped in front of Claire.
The snake thrust out its flat head towards her. She did not shrink from
it; and the charmer cried aloud some words that seemed like praise of
her beauty and of her composure. She gave him a piece of gold. Renfrew
gave him nothing.

Then, standing once more in the centre of the circle, he burst into a
frantic incantation, while the musicians redoubled their efforts, and
the old maniac in the corner gave forth his chuckling cry with greater
force, and swayed his trembling body more vehemently to and fro. The
snake, suddenly brought from the darkness of the kennel to the light of
day, was torpid and weary. It drooped between the charmer's hands. He
shook it, called on it, caught up a stick and struck it. Then, forcing
its mouth wide open, he barred its pink throat with the stick, on which
he made it fix its two fangs, which were like two sharp hooks. Holding
the end of the stick, he came again to Claire, to whom his whole
performance was now exclusively devoted; and, approaching the hanging
reptile close to her eyes, he jumped it up and down to the sound of the
drum and pipe.

"You see," Claire said to Renfrew, "the roof of its mouth is
flesh-colour."

He did not answer. Why did all this mean so much to him? Why did the
clouds grow darker? The music and the cries of the old maniac perturbed
him and bewildered his brain. And he wanted to be calm, and to watch
Claire and this savage with a cool and undivided attention. By this
time the snake was growing irritated. It agitated its long body
furiously; and when the charmer unhooked its fangs from the stick, it
turned its head towards him and made a sudden dart at his face. He
opened his mouth wide, thrust the snake into it, and let the creature
fasten on his tongue, from which blood began to flow. Still bleeding,
and with the snake fixed on his tongue, he danced and sprang into the
air. His eyes grew wild. Foam ran from his mouth, and his whole
appearance became demoniacal. Yet his eyes still fastened themselves
upon Claire. In his most frantic moments his attention was never
entirely distracted from the spot where she was standing. He tore the
snake from his tongue and buried its fangs in the flesh of his left
wrist. Cries broke from the crowd. The sight of the blood had excited
them, for these people love blood as the toper loves wine. They urged
the charmer on to fresh exertions with furious screams of encouragement.
The maniac bent his body like a dervish in the last exercises of his
religion, and the ragged musicians forced a more extreme uproar from
their instruments. The charmer caught the snake by the tail, and strove
to pull it backwards off his wrist. But the reptile's fangs were firmly
fastened. It held on with a terrible tenacity, and a struggle ensued
between it and its master. When at length it gave way, it was streaked
with blood, and now at last thoroughly aroused. The charmer scraped his
tongue with a straw; then, casting himself again upon the earth, he
prayed once more with fury to Sidi Mahomet. Claire watched him always,
with that pale and exquisite attention which one genius gives to the
performance of another. Her face was white and still. Her body never
moved. But her eyes blazed with life, and with the fires of a violent
soul completely awake. Having finished his prayer, which ended in a cry
so poignant that it might have burst from the lips of that world on
which the flood came, the charmer remained upon the ground in a sitting
posture, laid the snake in his lap, and drew from the inside of his
ragged robe a Moorish lute made of a bladder, bamboo, and two strings,
and coloured a pale yellowish-green. He plucked the strings gently, and
played the fragment of a wild tune. Then, suddenly catching up the
snake, and thrusting his tongue far out of his mouth, he poised the
snake upon it, rose to his feet and stood at his full height in front of
Claire, fixing his eyes upon her with a glance that seemed to claim from
her both wonder and worship. The snake reared itself up higher and
higher upon the quivering tongue; and the charmer, extending his long
arms, whirled slowly round as if poised upon a movable platform, while a
terrific clamour broke from the Moors, who seemed to be roused by this
feat to the highest pitch of excitement. Still turning and turning, the
charmer drew from his bosom a second snake that was black and larger
than the first, and coiled it round his sinewy neck like a gigantic
necklace, the darting head in front, resting, a sort of monstrous
pendant, upon his uncovered chest. To Renfrew he looked like some
hateful grotesque in a nightmare, inhuman, endowed with attributes of a
devil. The serpents were part of him, growths of his body, visible signs
of some terrible disease in which he gloried and of which he made a
show. The creature was intolerable. His exhibition had suddenly become
to Renfrew unfit for the eyes of any woman; and, without a word, he took
hold of Claire and pulled her almost violently away from the circle on
which the fascinated mob was beginning to encroach. She resisted him.

"Desmond!" she exclaimed, "what are you doing?"

"Claire--come. I insist upon it!"

Already the Moors had thronged the place which they had left vacant. She
turned a white face on him. There was in her eyes the hideous expression
of a sleep-walker suddenly awakened, and she trembled in every limb. She
swung round from Renfrew, and, above the intercepting Moors, high in the
air, she saw the snake, which seemed climbing to heaven. While she
looked, a huge hand closed upon it and took it out of sight. The
charmer, observing the departure of his distinguished patrons, had
abruptly stopped his performance. Claire made no further resistance.
Without a word, she permitted Renfrew to lead her to the horses and
help her into the saddle. They rode down the hill to the camp without
exchanging a word.

When Claire had dismounted, she stood for a moment twisting her whip in
her hands. Then she said:--

"Desmond, I must ask you never to startle me again as you did to-day, by
sudden action. You can't understand how such an interruption hurts a
nature like mine. I would rather you had struck me. That would only have
wounded my body."

She turned and went into her tent, leaving Renfrew in an agony of
penitence and self-reproach. All the rest of the afternoon she was very
cold and silent, rather dreamy than sullen, but obviously disinclined
for conversation, and still more obviously unwilling to endure even the
slightest demonstration of affection on the part of Renfrew. When the
sheep which were to be slaughtered for the soldiers' feast were driven
bleating into the camp, she retired into her tent, and remained there,
resting, until the sun was low in the heavens, and the porters and
mule-drivers went gaily out to search for the materials of the African
fire with which the night was to be celebrated. They returned, singing
the Moorish conquest of Granada, with their strong arms full of canes,
dry and brittle branches of trees, logs that looked like whole trunks,
and huge shrubs, green and sweet-smelling. Hearing their song, Claire
came out of her tent. The sky was red, and, in the southwest, turrets of
vapour rose and streamed out, assuming mysterious and thin shapes in the
gathering dimness. A great flock of birds, flying very high, and forming
a definite and beautiful pattern, passed slowly on the wing towards the
kingdom of the storks, that lies near the sand banks of Ceuta. They
moved in silence, and faded away in the twilight stealthily, like things
full of quiet intention and governed by some furtive, but inexorable,
desire. Renfrew, who was wandering rather miserably near the camp,
watching descending pilgrims from the city melt into the vast bosom of
the plain, saw Claire's white figure in the tent door, half hidden in a
soft rosy mist which stole from the lips of evening as scent steals from
the lips of a flower. He felt afraid to go to her. He possessed her; and
yet it seemed to him now that he scarcely knew her. He was only an
ordinary man. She was a strange woman; not merely because of her
womanhood, as all women are to all men, but strange in that which lay
beyond and beneath her womanhood, in her genius, and in the dull or
ardent moods that stood round it, one, and yet not one, with it. In the
tent door she leaned like a spirit born of the evening, a child of
fading things, dying lights, fainting colours, retreating sounds,--a
spirit waiting for the coming of the stars, and the rising of the moon,
and the mysteries of the night, and the subtle odours that the winds of
Northern Africa bring with them over the mountains and down the lonely
valleys, when the sun descends. And as a spirit may listen to the songs
of men, with the melancholy of a thing apart, she listened to the songs
of the Moors, until at length they seemed to be in her own heart that
evening, as if they were songs of her own country. And these dark men
with wild eyes who sang them, while they flung upon the grass their
burdens from the thickets, and from the hedgeless and wide fields, were
no longer alien to her. She stood in the tent door, and, without any
conscious effort of the imagination, became their fancied mate,--a woman
sprung from the same soil, or come in--like the strange people--from the
deserts of their country. Only she was not as one of their women,
mindless, patient, and concealed; but as their women should be, strong,
hot-blooded, brave, serene, and looked upon by a world without reproach.

Absalem came up to her to tell her some details of the night's
festivity. Before he spoke she said to him:--

"Where does the desert lie?"

He told her.

"Does the miracle man come from there?"

Absalem answered that no one knew. He had been much in Wasan, the sacred
city of Morocco; but none knew his birthplace, his tribe, his name.
Often he disappeared, no man could tell whither. But, doubtless, he
made vast journeys. Some said that he had exhibited his snakes on the
banks of the Nile, that he had gone with the pilgrim trains to Mecca,
that he knew Khartoum as he knew Marakesh, and that he never ceased from
wandering.

"What is his age?" Claire asked.

Absalem answered that he must be old, but that Time had no power over
him.

"He miracle man; he live long as he wish."

Last she asked when he would leave Tetuan.

"Perhaps this night. Perhaps to-morrow night, perhaps never. Perhaps he
go already."

"Already!"

Suddenly Claire moved out from the tent, and joined Renfrew, who was
still watching her, and weaving lover's fancies about her white figure.

"Have you been here long, Desmond?" she asked.

"Very long, dearest. Are you rested?"

"Quite. From here you can see all the people travelling away from the
city towards the sea?"

"Yes."

"Have you been watching them?"

"Yes, indeed; for half the afternoon."

She turned her great eyes on him searchingly, and seemed as if she
checked a question which was almost on her lips.

"They must have been a strange multitude," she said at length. "I wonder
where they are all going?"

"Some to the villages in the plain, some to the coast. I saw the Riffs
who were in the Soko pass by. I suppose they were returning to the
caverns from which they plunder becalmed vessels, Spanish and
Portuguese."

"The Riffs--yes?"

Her intonation suggested that she was waiting for some further
information. Renfrew's curiosity was aroused.

"Why do you look at me like that?" he asked. "What do you want to know?"

"Nothing, Desmond. How dark it is getting! There is Mohammed ringing the
bell. And look, those must be the soldiers. They are just marching in
from the city."

With the coming of night a wind arose, blowing towards the sea from the
mountains; and with it came up a troop of clouds which blotted out stars
and moon, and plunged the plain into a gulf of darkness. Tetuan does not
gleam with lamps at night like a European city, and all the distant
villas of the Moors were closely shuttered. So the wind, warm and
scented and strong, swept over a black land, deserted and vacant. Only
in the camp was there movement, music, and an illumination that strove
up in the night, as if it would climb to the clouds. Scarcely had Claire
and Renfrew finished dinner, when Absalem and Mohammed ceremoniously
appeared to conduct them out to the bare space before the tents on
which the African fire had been carefully built. Absalem carried a lamp
which swung in the wind, and, behind, there appeared from the kitchen
tent some of the porters, bearing burning brands, the flames of which
were at right angles to the wood from which they sprung. The guard of
soldiers, one dozen in all, armed with immense guns and wrapped in
hooded cloaks, were already crouched in a silent mass before the
lifeless and portentous erection which came out of the darkness, as
Absalem swung forward the lamp, like the skeleton of a monster. They
turned their shadowy faces on Claire, and stared with eyes intent and
unself-conscious as those of an animal. The porters flung their brands
on to the mountain of twigs, and instantaneously a huge sheet of livid
gold sprang up against the black background of the night, as if it had
been shaken out on the wind by invisible hands. This sheet expanded,
swayed, fluttered in ragged edges, and cast forth a cloud of sparks
which were carried away into the air and vanished in the sky. The shrubs
caught fire and crackled furiously, and finally the foundation of
gigantic logs began to glow steadily, and to fill the wind with a
scorching heat. The camp was gradually defined, at first vaguely and in
sections,--the peak of a tent, the head of a mule, a startled pariah
dog, a Moor set in the eye of the flames; then clearly, as the buildings
one may see in a furnace, complete and glowing. The faces of the
soldiers were barred with flickering orange, and red lights played in
their huge and staring eyeballs. The horses and mules could be counted.
Before the kitchen tent the sacrifice of sheep was visible, stewing in
enormous pans upon red embers in a trench of earth. And the grave cook,
who was distinguished by a white turban, shone like a pantomime magician
at the mouth of an enchanted cave. Warmth, light, life poured upon the
night, and the voices of men began to mingle with the continuous voice
of this superb fire. The Moors, soldiers, servants, porters, kindled
into furious gaiety with the swiftness of the canes and olive boughs.
They sprang up from the ground, pulled the shrouding hoods from their
faces, tossed away their djelabes, and began, with shouts and
ejaculations, to dance up and down before the golden sheet, spreading
their hands to it with the glee of children. A sudden joy beamed in the
dusky and solemn faces, twinkled in the sombre eyes. One man flung away
his fez, another dashed his turban to the ground. Round, shaven heads,
bare arms, brown legs, half concealed by fluttering linen
knickerbockers, lithe bodies emerged with eager haste into the light.
Shadows became abruptly men, formless humps athletes. Mutes sent out
great voices to startle the sweeping bats. Mourners turned into maniacs.
It was a fantasia that exploded into life like a rocket, shedding a
stream of vivid human fire. Mohammed drew away from the flames, taking
a dozen swift footsteps to the rear. Then, with a shout, he dashed
forward, bounded into the golden sheet, and disappeared as a clown
disappears through a paper hoop. Only the paper closed up behind him. He
leaped through light to darkness, pursued by a thousand eager sparks.
One soldier followed him, then another, and another. The porters,
linking hands, leaped in twos and threes. Even the cook, old, and
serious with a weight of savoury knowledge, tottered to the edge of the
fire, which was now becoming a furnace, and took it as an Irish horse
takes a stone wall, striking the topmost branches with his bare feet
amid a chorus of yells.

Claire watched the darting figures with a silent gravity. She did not
seem to be stirred by the fantasia of the firelight, or to catch any
gaiety or life from the boisterous activity of those about her. The
flames lit up the whiteness of her face, and showed Renfrew that she was
looking gloomy and even despairing.

"Is anything the matter, Claire?" he asked anxiously.

"No. How could there be?"

The wind, which was increasing in violence, blew her thin dress forward,
and she shivered. Absalem noticed it.

"Wear djelabe, lady," he said.

And in a moment he had taken his off, and was carefully wrapping Claire
in it. She seemed glad of it, thanked him, and, with a quick gesture
that hurt Renfrew, pulled the big brown hood up over her head, so that
her face was entirely concealed from view. She now looked exactly like a
Moor, and might have been mistaken for one of the soldiers before the
fire was lit and all impeding garments were thrown aside.

Renfrew, uneasy, and wondering what conduct on his part would best suit
her mysterious mood, after one or two remarks to which she barely
replied, drew away a little, and gave his attention to the antics of the
soldiers. Some of them were already resuming their djelabes, in
preparation for the feast, which they sniffed even through the odour of
burning wood and leaves. The cook, after his emotional and acrobatic
outburst, had returned to his pans, which he was stirring tenderly with
a stick. When Renfrew again looked towards Claire, he found it
impossible to tell which cloak shrouded her from his sight. Four or five
hooded figures stood near the fire. She must be one of them. He
approached the group, but found, to his surprise, that all the members
of it were soldiers. Claire had moved away. Renfrew stood for a few
minutes with the men, till they were summoned to their feast, which,
strangely enough, was to take place away from the fire in the dense
darkness behind the tents. Then he was left alone by the huge mass of
flame, which roared hoarsely in the wind. Where could Claire be? On any
ordinary occasion Renfrew would certainly have sought for her, but
to-night something held him back. He knew very well that she wished to
be alone, that something was closely occupying her mind. Whether she was
still brooding over the event of the afternoon, when he had forcibly led
her away in the very crisis of the snake-charmer's performance, he could
not tell. To an ordinary woman such a matter would have been a trifle;
but Renfrew understood that Claire felt it more deeply. Her mind
appeared to be mysteriously moved and awakened by this savage from the
depths of Morocco. Various circumstances combined to render him more
interesting to her than he could possibly be to any ordinary traveller.
Renfrew recognised that fully and quietly. The genius of Claire had
enabled her to realise in London all the wildly picturesque
idiosyncrasies of a man whom she had never seen or heard of. Suddenly
fate had led her to him, and she had beheld her own performance, the
original of her imitation. As Renfrew stood by the fire, he began to
feel the folly of his proceeding of the afternoon, and to imagine more
clearly than before the condition into which it had thrown Claire. It is
a sin to disturb the contemplations of genius. It is sacrilege. And then
Renfrew had been moved to his act by a preposterous access of jealousy.
He acknowledged this to himself. He had been jealous of Claire's
interest in this man's performance, jealous perhaps even of her dream
among the hills in the midnight camp, where the man stood before her
sleeping eyes, and played with his visionary serpent. How mad can a
lover be? He resolved to go to Claire, and ask her pardon. This resolve
thrilled him. To carry it out, he would have to draw very near to
Claire, to unpack his heart to her. After all, she had given herself to
him. But he had appreciated the wonder of his rôle as possessor so
keenly, that he had waited upon her moods with an almost trembling awe.
Now, in asking pardon, he would show that in his passion he could be
strong. Women want to see the man in the lover, as well as the devotee.
Renfrew, in acknowledging his jealousy of a black savage, meant to clasp
Claire with the arms of a whirlwind.

Meanwhile she was hidden from him. The wind blew strongly. The sparks
leaped away in clouds toward the sea. From the dense darkness behind him
came a sound of music. The soldiers were feasting. The porters were
striking the lute, and singing songs of the dance and of love and of
victory. It was a night of comradeship and of rejoicing. Yet he stood
alone; and the turmoil of his heart was unheeded. He tried to explore
the blackness of the night which stood round the golden fire with his
eyes. Claire must be in that blackness close to him. Doubtless she saw
him, a red and yellow creature, painted into fictitious brilliance by
the illumination which was shed upon him. She saw him and kept from
him. Renfrew resolved to be patient. When her mood of reserve died she
would come to him, in her dress of a Moor, and he would kiss the white
face beneath the hood, and put his arms round the thin figure that was
lost in the djelabe of brawny Absalem, and tell her the true story of
his heart, never fully told to her yet. He squatted down before the
fire, lit his pipe, shrugged his shoulders against the tempest from the
mountains, and waited, listening to the weird music that swept by him
like a hidden bird on the wind.

And Claire--where was she? When Absalem wrapped her in the huge djelabe
it seemed to Claire that he had divined her secret longing to be in
hiding. She disappeared into the mighty hood of the garment as into a
cave. Its shadow concealed her from the watching eyes of Renfrew. There
was warmth in it and a beautiful darkness. She desired both. She saw
Renfrew turn to watch the leaping soldiers, and stole away out of the
illuminated circle formed by the glow from the fire, into the night
beyond. She did not go far, only into the nearest shadow. And there she
sat down on the short dry grass, and forgot Renfrew, the roaring flames,
the wind that felt incessantly at her robe, the shouting guard, the
radiant and dancing attendants. She forgot them all as completely as if
they had never been in her life; for the strangeness of certain
incidents preoccupied her, to the exclusion of everything else. In the
double existence of a really great actress there are many moments in
which the truths of the imagination seem more important than the truths
of physical phenomena of things seen by the eye, of sounds received and
appreciated by the ear. In these moments, genius usurps the throne of
reason, and the mind beholds fancies as sunlit gods, facts as timid and
scarcely defined shadows. So it was with Claire now. Even the
snake-charmer, as he gave his performance in the Soko, was a shadow in
comparison with that man who summoned her to the tent door in the
solitary encampment. And behind and beyond both these figures of truth
and dreaming stood a third, created for herself by Claire in London,
that figure into whom she had poured her soul as into a mould, when she
charmed imaginary serpents, and prayed to the god in whom, for a moment,
she believed with the passion of the perfect mime. This trio Claire
placed in line, and reviewed: charmer of her imagination, of her dream,
of the Soko.

They were the same, and yet not the same. For the first was dominated,
even was created by her. The second stood above her, like some magician,
and summoned her as one possessing a right. The third--what of him? He
was a wild creature of blood and foam, crafty, a player like herself, a
maker of money, a savage in sacking, and almost nothing to her now. Out
of the desert he came. Into the desert he was, perhaps, even now,
returning, with his snakes sleeping in his bosom, and the money of the
Tetuan Moors jingling in his pouch.

Yes, she saw him, travelling like a shadow in the night, one of those
grotesques which leap on bedroom walls when a lamp flares in the wind
that sighs through an open casement. He was going; but the man of the
dream remained. The dream man had come up out of the world that is
vaguer to us than the desert when we wake, and clearer to us than the
desert when we sleep. Claire saw him still, and, while the wonderful
mountebank of the Soko passed, he stood in the tent door like a statue
of ebony, a rooted reality. And the snake was in his bosom; and the pipe
was at his lips; and the power was in his heart. And as he played,
Claire thought beneath the djelabe of Absalem, there came to him, with
the faltering steps of a thing irresistibly charmed, that third man
whose soul she had seen in London, like approaching like, with the
manner of a slave and the glance of the conquered. And her soul was
still within that charmed figure. She could not rescue it now from the
place where she had put it. And the statue at the tent door played the
irresistible melody until his wild and cringing double stole to his very
feet, and nearer and nearer, till they melted together, and where two
men had been, there was only one. He smiled with a subtle triumph, laid
down his pipe, stretched out his arms and vanished. But within him now
was the soul of Claire, borne wherever he should go, his captive, his
possession for all eternity.

Behind her, in the cloudy darkness, Claire heard a movement, and the
gliding of soft feet on grass. She did not turn her head, supposing that
one of the soldiers was keeping his guard. The movement ceased. But the
little noise had broken the thread on which her fancies were strung.
They were scattered like beads. She found herself feeling quite
ordinary, and listening with an urging attention for a renewal of the
trifling noise behind her. In the distance she could see Renfrew, now
crouching before the fire, which poured colour and a piercing vitality
upon him. She heard also, and for the first time, the sound of the
porters' music, which had been audible in the night all through her
reverie, though she was entirely unaware of the fact. She realised that
the soldiers were devouring the stew of mutton, and that she was in a
gay camp, full of human beings in a state of unusual satisfaction. One
of these human beings must be close to her. She turned her head. But she
was sitting in the darkness beyond the illumination of the fire, and
beyond her the night was like a black wall. Whatever had moved there was
invisible to her. She had not heard the gliding step go away, and she
felt that she was not alone. This feeling began to render her uneasy.
She got up, with the intention of returning to the firelight and to
Renfrew. Indeed she had taken a step or two in his direction, when she
was checked by an unreasonable desire to see who had come so close to
her, who had broken her reverie. Acting upon the sudden impulse, she
turned swiftly and came on into the darkness. Almost instantly she stood
before the dim outline of a man, and paused. Here in the night it was
very lonely, even though the illuminated camp was so near. Claire
hesitated to approach this man who seemed to be on watch and who was
perfectly motionless. She waited a moment, wishing that he would come to
her in order that she might see what he was like, whether he carried a
gun and was a soldier. But it was soon evident that he did not mean to
move. Then Claire went up so close to him that his coarse garment rubbed
against her djelabe and his eyes stared right down into hers. And she
saw that it was the snake-charmer from the Soko, who was looking into
her face with the very smile of the man in her dream. Round his bare
throat one of his snakes was twined, and he held its neck between the
fingers of his left hand. The wind tossed his short and ragged cloak
wildly to and fro, and whirled the long lock of hair at the back of his
shaven head about, and made it dance like a living thing. When Claire
came up to him, he never said a word, or moved at all. It seemed to her
that his face was that of some dark and triumphant being, waiting
immovably for something that was certain to come to him, and to come so
close that he need not even stretch out his hand to take it as his
possession. What was the thing he waited for? She looked at his black
face and at the snake which moved slowly, trying to thrust its way
downward into the warmth of his bosom, out of the reach of the wind and
of the night. And, when the man's fingers unclosed to release it, and it
slid away and softly disappeared beneath his garment, Claire shuddered
under the influence of a sensation that was surely mad. For she felt
that she envied the snake, and that the charmer was waiting there in the
darkness for her. As the snake vanished, Claire recoiled towards the
fire. The charmer did not attempt to follow her, and his huge and
watchful figure quickly faded from Claire's eyes till his blackness had
become one with the blackness of the night.


IV

Renfrew, as he crouched before the fire, felt a light touch on his
shoulder. He looked up, saw Claire's white face peering down on him, and
sprang to his feet.

"I thought you were never coming, that you had deserted me altogether,
and left me lonely in the midst of the fantasia," he cried, seizing her
hands.

"I am cold," she said; "horribly cold. Let me sit beside you, close to
the fire."

She sat down on the ground, almost touching the roaring flames.

"Where have you been?"

"Sitting in the dark. The soldiers are feasting?"

"Yes, and the camp fellows are all singing and playing. Don't you hear
them? We are quite alone. That's all I want, all I care for. Claire,
when you go away like this, and leave me, even for a few minutes,
Morocco is the most desolate place in all the world, and I'm the most
desolate vagabond in it."

He put his arm round her. The terrific glow from the fire played over
her face, danced in the deep folds of her djelabe, shone in her eyes,
showered a cloud of gold and red about her hair. For she had let her
hood fall down on her shoulders. She attained to that fine and almost
demoniacal picturesqueness which glorifies even the most commonplace
smith when you see him in his forge by night. Her cheeks were suffused
with scarlet, as if she had suddenly painted them to go on the stage.
Yet she shivered again as Renfrew spoke.

"You should not have left the fire," he said. "And yet the wind is
warm."

"It can't be. But it's not the wind, it's the darkness that has chilled
me."

"Or is it the loneliness?" he asked, tenderly. "For you have been alone
as well as I, and nothing on earth makes one so cold as solitude."

"I scarcely ever feel alone, Desmond," she said.

And, as she spoke, she cast a glance behind her into the darkness from
which she had just come. Renfrew noticed it.

"You have been alone?" he asked hastily. Then he checked himself with an
ashamed laugh.

"What a fool I am," he exclaimed.

He clasped her more closely.

"A fool, because I'm so desperately in love with you, Claire," he said,
rushing on his confession with the swiftness of alarmed bravery. "Look
here, I want to tell you something. You must put everything I do,
everything I am, down to the account of my love,--shyness, anger,
abruptness, violence,--everything, Claire. My love's responsible. It
does play the devil with an ordinary man when he's given his very soul
to--to a woman like you, to a great woman. It keeps him back when he
ought to go on, and sends him on when he ought to stay quiet, and makes
him jealous of stones and--and savages."

"Savages, Desmond?"

Renfrew's face was scarlet. He put up his hand before it and muttered:--

"This fire's scorching. Yes, Claire, of savages. Didn't you find that
out this afternoon, when we were in Tetuan? But of course you couldn't.
You couldn't know you'd married such an infernal lunatic."

He broke off. She was watching him with a close attention, and her body
had ceased to tremble under his arm.

"Go on, Desmond."

"You want me to tell you the sort of man you've married?"

"I want you to tell me what you mean."

"Then I will. Claire, this afternoon I took you away from that
snake-charming chap because--well, because you watched him as if he
fascinated you."

"Oh!"

"Of course I knew why. His performance was clever, and he was
picturesque in his way, although, to be sure, it was all put on, as far
as that goes."

"Like my stage performances, Desmond."

"Claire," he said hotly. "How can you?"

"That man acts far better than I do--if he acts at all."

"Was that why he interested you so much?"

"In what other way could he interest me?"

Renfrew kicked at one of the blazing logs and sent up a shower of
red-hot flakes.

"Well, there was your dream, Claire."

"Yes, there was that."

"It was curious, coming just before we saw the fellow. And you say the
two men were alike."

"I did not say alike. I said the same."

"How could that be?"

"How can a thousand things be? Yet we cannot deny them when they are,
any more than we can deny that we feel an earthly immortality within us
and yet crumble into dust. In sleep I saw that man. I saw his snake. I
heard him play."

"Yes, Claire, I know. It's damned strange."

Renfrew's forehead was wrinkled in a meditative frown.

"But, after all, what's a dream?" he exclaimed. "A vagary of a sleeping
brain. And in your dream you wouldn't go to that beggar, Claire."

"No. I wouldn't go, and so I died."

"It all means nothing--nothing at all."

She looked at him gravely.

"I wonder whether there are things in life that we are compelled to do,
Desmond," she said. "I sometimes think there must be. How otherwise can
a thousand strange events be accounted for, especially things that women
do?"

"I don't know," he muttered, staring at her anxiously in the firelight.

"Every one acknowledges the irresistible power of physical force over
physical weakness. Some day, perhaps, when the world has grown a little
older, we shall all understand that the power of mental force is
precisely similar, and can as little be resisted. What's that?"

Renfrew felt that she was suddenly alert. Her thin form grew hard and
quivering, like the body of a greyhound about to be let loose on a
hare. He heard nothing except a sound of music from the darkness, and
the gentle rustle of the wind.

"I hear nothing," he said. "What was it--a cry?"

"No, no!"

"What then?"

"Oh, Desmond--hush!"

He was obedient, and strained his ears, wondering what Claire had heard.
The fire was at last beginning to die down, for the flames had devoured
the masses of dry twigs, and had now nothing to feed upon except the
heavy logs. So the darkness drew a little closer round the camp, as if
the night expanded noiselessly. One of the porters, or, perhaps, one of
the soldiers, was playing a queer little air upon a pipe over and over
again. It was plaintive and very soft. But the tone of the instrument
was strangely penetrating, and the wind carried it along over the plain,
as if anxious to bear it to the sea, that the cave men might hear it,
and the sailors bearing up for the Spanish coast. Was Claire listening
to this odd little tune? Renfrew wondered. There seemed no other sound.
She was moving uneasily now, as if an intense restlessness had taken
hold of her. And she turned her head away from him and gazed into the
night.

Presently she put her hand on Renfrew's arm, which was still round her
waist, and tried to remove it. But he would not yield to her desire. He
only held her closer, and again--he could not tell why--the smouldering
jealousy began to flare up in his heart.

"No, Claire," he said, in answer to her movement, "you are mine. You
have given yourself to me. I alone have the right to keep you, to hold
you close--close to my heart."

"Can you keep me always, Desmond?" she said, suddenly turning on him
with a sort of fierce excitement.

She looked into his eyes as if she would search the very depths of his
soul for strength, for power.

"You have the right. Yes; but that is nothing--nothing."

"Nothing, Claire?"

"You must have the strength, Desmond. That is everything."

There was a look almost of despair in her face. She threw herself
against him as if moved by a sudden yearning for protection, and put her
arms round his shoulders.

The hidden Moor was still playing the same monotonous little tune, an
African aria, as wild as a bird that flies over the desert, or a cloud
that is driven across the sky above a dangerous sea. It was imaginative,
and, as all tunes seem to have a shape, this melody was misshapen and
yet delicious, like a twisted tangled creature that has the smile of a
sweet woman, or the eyes of an alluring child. In its plaintiveness
there was the atmosphere of solitary places. And there was a sound of
love in it, too, but of a love so uncivilised as to be almost monstrous.
Some earth man of a dead age might have sung it to his mate in a land
where the sun looked down on things primeval. It might have caught the
heart of maidens very long ago, before they learned to think of passion
as the twin of law, and to regard a kiss as the seal set upon the tape
of matrimony. The queer sorrow of it could hardly have moved any eyes to
tears. Yet few women could have heard it without a sense of desolation.
It ran through the darkness as cold water runs in the black shadow of a
forest, a trickle of sound as thin and persistent as the cry of a wild
creature in the night.

Renfrew thrilled under the touch of Claire's hand.

"You can give me the strength every woman seeks in the man she yields
herself up to," he said.

"How?"

"By loving me."

"Ah, yes. But the strength must not come, however subtly, from the
woman. No--no."

Again she leaned away from him, with her face turned towards the
darkness. Tremors ran through her, and her hands dropped almost feebly
from Renfrew's shoulders, as the hands of an invalid fall away, and
down, after an embrace.

"Oh, no," she reiterated, and her voice was almost a wail. "It must be
there, in the man, part of him, whether he is with the woman in the
night, or alone--far off--in the jungle, or in the--the desert. He must
have the strange strength that comes from solitude. Where can the men of
our country find that now?"

"They find strength in the clash of wills, Claire, and in the battles of
love."

"Most of them never find it at all," she said, with a sort of sullen
resignation. "And most of the women do not want it, or ask for it, or
know what it is. The danger is when some accident or some fate teaches
them what it is. Then--then--"

She stopped, and glanced at Renfrew suspiciously, as if she had so
nearly betrayed a secret that he might, nay, must have guessed it.

"What do you mean? Then they seek it away from--?"

"Where they know they will find it," she said, almost defiantly.

Renfrew's face grew cold and rigid.

"What are you saying to me, Claire?"

"What is true of some women, Desmond."

He was silent. Pain and fear invaded his heart; and, by degrees, the
little tune played by the Moor seemed to approach him, very quietly, and
to become one with this slow agony. Music, among its many and terrible
powers, numbers one that is scarcely possessed as forcibly by any other
art. It can glide into a man and direct his emotions as irresistibly as
science can direct the flow of a stream. It can penetrate as a thing
seen cannot penetrate. For that which is invisible is that which is
invincible. And this tune of the Moor, while it added to Renfrew's
distress, touched his distress with confusion and bewilderment. At first
he did not realise that the music had anything to do with his state of
mind, or with the growing turmoil of his heart and brain; but he felt
that something was becoming intolerable to him, and pushing him on in a
dangerous path. He thought it was the statement of Claire; and, for the
first time in his life, he was stirred by an anger against her that was
horrible to him. He released her from his arm.

"How dare you say that to me?" he asked. "Do you understand what your
words imply, that--Good God!--that women are like animals, creatures
without souls, running to the feet of the master who has the whip with
the longest, the most stinging lash? Why, such a creed as yours would
keep men savages, and kill all gentleness out of the world. Curse that
chap! That hideous music of his--"

He had suddenly become aware that the Moor's melody added something to
his torment. At his last exclamation, the sullen look in Claire's pale
face gave way to an expression of fear and of startling solicitude.

"Desmond, you are putting a wrong interpretation on what I said," she
began hastily.

But he was excited, and could not endure any interruption.

"And you imply a degrading immorality as a prevailing characteristic of
women too," he went on, "that they should leave their homes, deny their
obligations, because they find elsewhere--away, out in some dark place
with a blackguard--a powerful will to curb them and keep them down,
like--why, like these wretched women all round us here in this
country,--the women we saw in Tetuan only to-day, veiled, hidden, loaded
with burdens, worse off than animals, because their masters doubt them,
and would not dream of trusting them. Claire, there's something
barbarous about you."

He spoke the words with the intonation of one who thinks he is uttering
an insult. But she smiled.

"It's the something barbarous about me that has placed me where I am,"
she said, with a cold pride. "It is that which civilisation worships in
me, that which has set me above the other women of my time. It is even
that which has made you love me, Desmond, whether you know it or not."

He looked at her like a man half dazed.

"I frighten the dove-cotes. I can make men tremble by my outbursts of
passion, and women faint because I am sad; and even the stony-hearted
sob when I die. And I can make you love me, Desmond. Yes, perhaps I am
more barbarous than other women. But do you think I am sorry for it?
No."

"Some day you may be, Claire."

He spoke more gently. The wonder and worship he had for this woman
stirred in him again. While she had been speaking, she had instinctively
risen to her feet, and she stood in the dull red glow of the waning
fire, looking down at him as if he were a creature in a lower world than
the one in which she could walk at will.

"I shall never choose to be sorry," she said, "whatever my fate may be.
To be sorry is to be feeble, and to be feeble is to be unfit to live,
and unfit to die. Never, never think of me as being sorry for anything I
have done, or may do. Never deceive yourself about me."

A great log, eaten through by a flame at its heart, broke gently asunder
on the summit of the heaped wood. One half of it, red-hot, and alive
with multitudes of flickering fires, gold, primrose, steel-blue, and
deep purple, dropped and fell at Claire's feet. She glanced down at it,
and at Renfrew.

"My deeds may burn me up," she said, "as those coloured fires burn up
that wood, until it is no longer wood but fire itself. They shall never
drench me with wretched, contemptible tears."

He got up; and, when he was on his feet, he seemed to hear the incessant
music more clearly, blending with the words of Claire. The notes were
like hot sparks falling on him. He winced under them, and looked round
almost wildly. Then, without speaking, he hurried away in the darkness
to the place where the soldiers were feasting, and the men of the camp
were holding their fantasia. Claire divined why he went. She started a
step forward as if to try and stop him; but his movement had been so
abrupt that she was too late. She had to let him go. Her hands fell at
her sides, and she waited by the dying fire in the attitude of one who
listens intently. The soft melody of that hidden and persistent musician
wailed in her ears, on and on. It came again and again, never ceasing,
never altering in time. And its influence upon Claire was terrible as
the influence of the dream music in the valley beneath the Kasbar. She
longed to go to it. She seemed to belong to it,--to be its possession,
and to have erred when she separated herself from it. In the darkness it
was awaiting her, and it sent out its crying voice in the night as a
message, as a summons soft, clear, and quietly determined. She clenched
her hands as she stood by the fire. She strove to root her feet in the
ground. If there had been anything to cling to just then, she would have
stretched forth her arms and clung to it, resisting what she loved from
fear of the future. But there was nothing. And she thought of the
children and of the Pied Piper. But they were legendary beings of a
fable long ago. And she thought of Renfrew and of his love. But that
seemed nothing. That could not keep her. He was a pale phantom, and her
career was a handful of dust, and her name was as the name graven upon a
tomb, and her life was but as a gift to be offered to an unknown
destiny,--while that melody called to her. Had any one seen her then in
the glow of the firelight, she would have seemed to him terrible. For
suddenly she let the djelabe of Absalem slip from her shoulders to the
ground. And, in the fiercely flickering light, that makes all things and
people assume unearthly aspects, her thin figure in its white robe
looked like the white body of a serpent, erect and trembling, under the
influence of the charmer. But the melody grew softer and softer, more
faint, more dreamy in the darkness. Presently it ceased. As it did so,
Claire drew a deep breath, lifted her head like one released from a
thraldom, and turned her face towards the camp.

Almost directly she saw Renfrew returning towards her. He looked
puzzled.

"It wasn't any of the men playing," he said to her.

"No?"

Claire bent, caught up the djelabe and drew it over her.

"I went to them, and found them listening to some story Absalem was
telling. They were all gathered close round him, huddled up together in
the dark. And the piping came from quite another direction--not from the
soldiers either. It must have been some vagabond out of Tetuan. I was
just going to make a search for him, when the noise stopped. He must
have heard me coming."

He still looked disturbed and angry, and this break in their
conversation was final. It seemed impossible to take up the thread of it
again. They stood together watching the fire fade away till it was a
faint glow almost level with the ground. Then at last Renfrew spoke, in
a voice that was almost timid.

"Claire," he said.

"Yes," she answered out of the dull twilight that would soon be
darkness.

"If I have said anything to-night to hurt you, don't think of it, don't
remember it. I don't know--I don't seem to have been like myself
to-night. I believe that cursed music irritated me, so ugly, and so
monotonous; it got right on my nerves, I think."

"Did it?"

"Without my knowing it."

He felt for one of her hands and clasped it.

"Yes, dear. We both said more than we meant. Didn't we?"

Claire did not assent; but she let her hand lie in his. That satisfied
him then, although afterwards he remembered her silence. Soon the fire
was dead; and they said good-night in the wind, which seemed colder
because there was no more light.

       *       *       *       *       *

Renfrew went to his tent, undressed, and got into bed. The wind roared
against the canvas. But the pegs had been driven stoutly into the ground
by the porters, and held the cords fast. He felt very tired and
depressed, and thought he would not fall asleep quickly. But he soon
began to be drowsy, and to have a sense of dropping into the very arms
of the tempest, lulled by its noise. He slept for a time. Presently,
however, and while it was still quite dark, he woke up. He heard the
wind as before, but was troubled by an idea that some other sound was
mingling with it, some murmur so indistinct that he could not decide
what it was, although he was aware of it. He sat up and strained his
ears, and wished the wind would lull, if only for a moment, or that this
other sound--which had surely been the cause of his waking--would
increase, and stand out distinctly in the night. And, at last, by dint
of listening with all his force, Renfrew seemed to himself to compel the
sound to greater clearness. Then he knew that somewhere, far off perhaps
in the wind, the player on the pipe reiterated his soft and stealthy
music. It was swept on the tempest like a drowning thing caught in a
whirlpool. It was so faint as to be almost inaudible. But in all its
weakness it retained most completely its character, and made the same
impression upon Renfrew as when it was near and distinct. It irritated
and it repelled him. And, with an angry exclamation, he flung himself
down and buried his head in the pillow, stopping his ears with his
hands.

       *       *       *       *       *

With daylight the camp was in a turmoil. Claire was gone. Her bed had
not been slept in. She had not undressed. She had not even taken off
Absalem's djelabe. At least it could not be found. Renfrew, frantic,
almost mad with anxiety, explored the plain, rode at a gallop to the
gate of the city, called upon the Governor of Tetuan to help him in his
search, and summoned the Consul to his aid in his despair. Every effort
was made to find the missing woman; but no success crowned the quest,
either at that time, or afterwards, when weeks became months, and months
grew into years. A great actress was lost to the world. His world was
lost to Renfrew. He rode back at last one day to the villas of Tangier,
bent down upon his horse, broken, alone. In his despair he cursed
himself. He accused himself of cruelty to Claire that night beside the
African fire, when he had been roused to a momentary anger against her.
He even told himself that he had driven her away from him. But other
men, who had known Claire and the strangeness of her caprices, said to
each other that she had got tired of Renfrew and given him the slip,
wandering away disguised in the djelabe of a Moor, and that some fine
day she would turn up again, and re-appear upon the stage that had seen
her glory.

Later on, when Renfrew at last, after long searching, came hopelessly
back to England, so changed that his friends scarcely recognised him, he
was sometimes seized with strange and terrible thoughts as he sat
brooding over the wreck of his love. He seemed to see, as in a pale
vision of flame and darkness, a little dusky Moorish boy bending to
smell at a withered sprig of orange flower, and to remember that
once--how long ago it seemed--Claire had wished to kiss that boy as a
Moorish woman might have kissed him. And then he saw a veiled figure,
that he seemed to know even in its deceitful robe, bend down to the boy.
And the vision faded. At another time he would hear the little tune that
had persecuted him in the night. And then he recalled the music of
Claire's dream, and the melody that charmed the snakes; and he
shuddered. For the miracle man had never been seen in Tetuan since the
day when Claire had watched him in the Soko. Nor could Renfrew ever find
out whither he had wandered.

       *       *       *       *       *

Very long afterwards, however,--although this fact was never known to
Renfrew,--two Russian travellers in the Great Sahara desert witnessed
one evening, as they sat in their tent door, the performance of a savage
charmer of snakes who carried upon his body three serpents,--one
striped, one black, one white. And the younger of them noticed, and
remarked to the other, that the charmer wore half-way up the little
finger of his left hand a thin gold circle in which there was set a
magnificent black pearl.



A TRIBUTE OF SOULS


PRELUDE

The matter of Carlounie, the village of Perthshire in Scotland, is
become notorious in the world. The name of its late owner, his
remarkable transformation, his fortunate career, his married life, the
brooding darkness that fell latterly upon his mind, the flaming deed
that he consummated, its appalling outcome, and the finding of him by Mr
Mackenzie, the minister of the parish of Carlounie, sunk in a pool of
the burn that runs through a "den" close to his house--all these things
are fresh in the minds of many men. It has been supposed that he had
discovered a common intrigue between his wife, Kate, formerly an
hospital nurse, and his tenant, Hugh Fraser of Piccadilly, London. It
has been universally thought that this discovery led to the last action
of his life. The following pages, found among his papers, seem to put a
very different complexion on the affair, although they suggest a
mediæval legend rather than a history of modern days. It may be added
that careful enquiries have been made among the inhabitants of
Carlounie, and that no man, woman, or child has been discovered who ever
saw, or heard of, the grey traveller mentioned in Alistair Ralston's
narrative.


I

THE STRANGER BY THE BURN

Can a fever change a man's whole nature, giving him powers that he never
had before? Can he go into it impotent, starved, naked, emerge from it
potent, satisfied, clothed with possibilities that are wonders, that are
miracles to him? It must be so; it is so. And yet--I must go back to
that sad autumn day when I walked beside the burn. Can I write down my
moods, my feelings of that day and of the following days? And if I can,
does that power of pinning the butterfly of my soul down upon the
board--does that power, too, bud, blossom from a soil mysteriously
fertilised by illness? Formerly, I could as easily have flown in the air
to the summit of cloud-capped Schiehallion as have set on paper even the
smallest fragment of my mind. Now--well, let me see, let me still
further know my new, my marvellous self.

Yes, that first day! It was Autumn, but only early Autumn. The leaves
were changing colour upon the birch trees, upon the rowans. At dawn,
mists stood round to shield the toilet of the rising sun. At evening,
they thronged together like a pale troop of shadowy mutes to assist at
his departure to the under world. It was a misty season, through which
the bracken upon the hillsides of my Carlounie glowed furtively in
tints of brown and of orange; and my mind, my whole being, seemed to
move in mists. I was just twenty-two, an orphan, master of my estate of
Carlounie, a Scotch laird, and my own governor. And some idiots envied
me then, as many begin to envy me now. I even remember one ghastly old
man who clapped me on the shoulder, and, with the addition of an
unnecessary oath, swore that I was "a lucky youngster." I, with my thin,
chétif body, my burning, weakly, starved, and yet ambitious soul--lucky!
I remember that I broke into a harsh laugh, and longed to kill the
babbling beast.

And it was the next day, in the afternoon, that I took that book--my
Bible--and went forth alone to the long den in which the burn hides and
cries its presence. Yes, I took Goethe's "Faust," and my own complaining
spirit, and went out into the mist with my misty, clouded mind. My
cousin Gavin wanted me to go out shooting. He laughed and rallied me
upon my ill-luck on the previous day, when I had gone out and been the
joke of my own keepers because I had missed every bird; and I turned and
railed at him, and told him to leave me to myself. And, as I went, I
heard him muttering, "That wretched little fellow! To think that he
should be owner of Carlounie!" Now, he sings another tune.

With "Faust" in my hand, and hatred in my heart, I went out into the
delicately chilly air, down the winding ways of the garden, through the
creaking iron gateway. I emerged on to the wilder land, irregular,
grass-covered ground, strewn with grey granite boulders, among which
coarse, wiry ferns grew sturdily. The blackfaced sheep whisked their
broad tails at me as I passed, then stooped their ever-greedy mouths to
their damp and eternal meal again. I heard the thin and distant cry of a
hawk, poised somewhere up in the mist. The hills, clothed in the
death-like glory of the bracken, loomed around me, like some phantom,
tricked-out procession passing through desolate places. And then I heard
the voice of the burn--that voice which is even now for ever in my ears.
To me that day it was the voice of one alive; and it is the voice of one
alive to me now. I descended the sloping hill with my lounging,
weak-kneed gait, at which the creatures who called me master had so
often looked contemptuously askance. (I was often tired at that time.) I
descended, I say, until I reached the edge of the tree-fringed den, and
the burn was noisy in my ears. I could see it now, leaping here and
there out of its hiding-place--ivory foam among the dripping larches,
and the birches with their silver stems; ivory foam among the deep brown
and flaming orange of the bracken, and in that foam a voice
calling--calling me to come down into its hiding-place, presided over by
the mists--to come down into its hiding-place, away from men: away from
the living creatures whom I hated because I envied them, because they
were stronger than I, because they could do what I could not do, say
what I could not say. Gavin, Dr Wedderburn, my tenants, the smallest
farm boy, the grooms, the little leaping peasants--I hated, I hated them
all. And then I obeyed the voice of the ivory foam, and I went down into
the hiding-place of the burn.

It ran through strange and secret places where the soft mists hung in
wet wreaths. I seemed to be in another world when I was in its lair. On
the sharply rising banks stood the sentinel trees like shadows, some of
them with tortured and tormented shapes. As I turned and looked straight
up the hill of the burn's descending course, the mountain from which it
came closed in the prospect inexorably. A soft gloom hemmed us in--me
and the burn which talked to me. We two were out of the world which I
hated and longed to have at my feet. Yes, we were in another world, full
of murmuring and of restful unrest; and now that I was right down at the
water-side, the ivory face of my friend, the ivory lips that spoke to
me, the ivory heart that beat against my heart--so sick and so
weary--were varied and were changed. As thoughts streak a mind, the
clear amber of the pools among the rocks streaked the continuous foam
that marked the incessant leaps taken by the water towards the valley.
The silence of those pools was brilliant, like the pauses for
contemplation in a great career of action; and their silence spoke to
me, mingling mysteriously with the voice of the foam. The course of the
burn is broken up, and attended by rocks that have been modelled by the
action of the running water into a hundred shapes. Some are dressed in
mosses, yellow and green, like velvet to the touch, and all covered with
drops of moisture; some are gaunt and naked and deplorable, with sharp
edges and dry faces. The burn avoids some with a cunning and almost
coquettish grace, dashes brutally against others, as if impelled by an
internal violence of emotion. Others, again, it caresses quite gently,
and would be glad to linger by, if Nature would allow the dalliance. And
this army of rocks helps to give to the burn its charm of infinite
variety, and to fill its voice with a whole gamut of expression; for the
differing shape of each boulder, against which it rushes in its long
career, gives it a different note. It flickers across the small and
round stone with the purling cry of a child. From the stone curved
inwards, and with a hollow bosom it gains a crooning, liquid melody. The
pointed and narrow colony of rocks which break it into an intricate
network of small water threads, toss it, chattering frivolously, towards
the dark pool under the birches, where the trout play like sinister
shadows and the insects dance in the sombre pomp of Autumn; and when it
gains a great slab that serves it for a spring-board, from which it
takes a mighty leap, its voice is loud and defiant, and shrieks with a
banshee of triumph--in which, too, there is surely an undercurrent of
wailing woe. Oh, the burn has many voices among the rocks, under the
ferns and the birch trees, in the brooding darkness of the mists and
shadows, between the steep walls of the green banks that hem it in! Many
voices which can sing, when they choose, one song, again and again
and--monotonously--again!

So--now on this sad Autumn day--I was with the burn in its hiding-place,
cool, damp, fretful. Carlounie sank from my sight. My garden, the wilder
land beyond, the moors on which yesterday my incompetence as a shot had
roused the contempt of my cousin and of my hirelings--all were lost to
view. I was away from all men in this narrow, tree-shrouded cleft of a
world. I sat down on a rock, and, stretching out my legs, rested my
heels on another rock. Beneath my legs the clear brown water glided
swiftly. I sat and listened to its murmur. And, just then, it did not
occur to me that water can utter words like men. The murmur was
suggestive but definitely inarticulate. I had come down here to be away
and to think. The murmur of my mind spoke to the murmur of the burn;
and, as ever, in those days, it lamented and cursed and bitterly
complained.

Why, why was I pursued by a malady of incompetence that clung to both
mind and body? (So ran my thoughts.) Why was I bruised and beaten by
Providence? Why had I been given a soul that could not express itself in
the frame of a coward, a weakling, a thin, nervous, dwarfish, almost a
deformed, creature? If my soul had corresponded exactly to my body, then
all might have been well enough. I should have been more complete,
although less, in some way, than I now was. For such a soul would have
accepted cowardice, weakness, inferiority to others as suitable to it,
as a right fate. Such a soul would never have known the meaning of the
word rebellion, would never have been able to understand its own cancer
of disease, to diagnose the symptoms of its villainous and creeping
malady. It would never have aspired like a flame, and longed in vain to
burn clearly and grandly or to flicker out for ever. Rather would such a
soul have guttered on like some cheap and ill-smelling candle, shedding
shadows rather than any light, ignorant of its own obscurity, regardless
of the possibilities that teem like waking children in the wondrous womb
of life, oblivious of the contempt of the souls around it, heedless of
ambition, of the trumpet call of success, of the lust to be something,
to do something, of the magic, of the stinging magic of achievement.
With such a soul in my hateful, pinched, meagre, pallid body--I thought,
sitting thus by the burn--I might have been content, an utterly low, and
perhaps an utterly satisfied product of the fiend creation.

But my soul was not of this kind, and so I was the most bitterly
miserable of men. God--or the Devil--had made me ill-shaped, physically
despicable, with the malign sort of countenance that so often
accompanies and illustrates a bad poor body. My limbs, without being
actually twisted, were shrunken and incompetent--they would not obey my
desires as do the limbs of other men. My legs would not grip a horse.
When I rode I was a laughing-stock. My arms had no swiftness, no
agility, no delicate and subtle certainty. When I tried to box, to
fence, I was one whirling, jigging incapacity. I had feeble sight, and
objects presented themselves to my vision so strangely that I could not
shoot straight. I, Alistair Ralston the young Laird of Carlounie! When I
walked my limbs moved heavily and awkwardly. I had no grace, no
lightness, no ordinary, quite usual competence of bodily power. And this
was bitter, yet as nothing to the Marah that lay beyond. For my body was
in a way complete. It was a wretch. But when you came to the mind you
had the real tragedy. In many decrepit flesh temples there dwells a
commanding spirit, as a great God might dwell--of mysterious choice--in
a ruinous and decaying lodge in a wilderness. And such a spirit rules,
disposes, presides, develops, has its own full and superb existence,
triumphing not merely over, but actually through the contemptible body
in which it resides, so that men even are led to worship the very
ugliness and poverty of this body, to adore it for its power to retain
such a mighty spirit within it. Such a spirit was not mine. Had it been,
I might have been happy by the burn that Autumn day. Had it been, I
might never--But I am anticipating, and I must not anticipate. I must
sit with the brown water rushing beneath the arch of my limbs, and
recall the horror of my musing.

In a manner, then, my soul matched my body. It was feeble and
incompetent too. My brain was dull and clouded. My intellect was
sluggish and inert. But--and this was the terror for me!--within the
rank nest of my soul--my spirit--lay coiled two vipers that never ceased
from biting me with their poisoned fangs--Self-consciousness and
Ambition. I knew myself, and I longed to be other than I was. I watched
my own incompetence as one who watches from a tower. I divined how
others regarded me--precisely. The blatant and comfortable egoism of a
dwarf mind in a dwarf body was never for one moment mine. I was that
terrible anomaly, an utterly incomplete and incompetent thing that
adored, with a curious wildness of passion, completeness, competence.
Nor had I a soul that could ever be satisfied with a one-sided
perfection. My desires were Gargantuan. When I was with my cousin Gavin,
a fine all-round sportsman, I longed with fury to be a good shot, to
throw a fly as he did, to have a perfect seat on a horse. I felt that I
would give up years of life to beat him once in any of his pursuits.
When I was with Dr Wedderburn, my desires, equally intense, were utterly
different. He represented in my neighbourhood Intellect--with a capital
I. A man of about fifty, minister of the parish of Carlounie, he was
astonishingly adroit as a controversialist, astonishingly eloquent as a
divine. His voice was full of music. His eyes were full of light and of
the most superb self-confidence. He rested upon his intellect as a man
may rest upon a rock. The power of his personality was calm and immense.
I felt it vehemently. I shook and trembled under it. I hated and loathed
the man for it, because I wanted and could never possess it. So, too, I
hated my cousin Gavin for his possessions, his long and sure-sighted
eyes, great and strong arms, broad chest, lithe legs, bright agility. My
body could do nothing. My soul could do nothing--except one great thing.
It could fully observe and comprehend its own impotence. It could fully
and desperately envy and pine to be what it could never be. Could never
be, do I say? Wait! Remember that is only what I thought then as I sat
upon the rock, and, with haggard young eyes, watched the clear brown
water slipping furtively past between my knees.

My disease seemed to culminate that day, I remember. I was a sick
invalid alone in the mist. Something--it might have been vitriol--was
eating into me, eating, eating its way to my very heart, to the core of
me. Oh, to be stunted and desire to be straight and tall, to be dwarf
and wish to be giant, to be stupid and long to be a genius, to be ugly
and yearn to be in face as one of the shining gods, to have no power
over men, and to pine to fascinate, hold, dominate a world of men--this
indeed is to be in hell! I was in hell that Autumn day. I clenched my
thin, weak hands together. I clenched my teeth from which the pale lips
were drawn back in a grin; and I realised all the spectral crowd of my
shortcomings. They stood before me like demons of the Brocken--yes, yes,
of the Brocken!--and I cursed God with the sound of the burn ringing and
chattering in my ears. And I devoted Gavin, Doctor Wedderburn, every man
highly placed, every lowest peasant, who could do even one of all the
things I could not do, to damnation. The paroxysm that took hold of me
was like a fit, a convulsion. I came out of it white and feeble. And,
suddenly, the voice of the burn seemed to come from a long way off. I
put out my hand, and took up from the rock on which I had laid it,
"Faust." And, scarcely knowing what I did, I began mechanically to
read--to the dim rapture of the burn--

"_Scene III.--The Study. Faust (entering, with the poodle)._" I began to
read, do I say, mechanically? Yes, it is true, but soon, very soon, the
spell of Goethe was laid upon me. I was in the lofty-arched, narrow
Gothic chamber, with that living symbol of the weariness, broken
ambition, learned despair of all the ages. I was engrossed. I heard the
poodle snarling by the stove. I heard the spirits whispering in the
corridor. Vapour rose--or was it indeed the mist from the mountains
among the birch trees?--and out of the vapour came Mephistopheles in the
garb of a travelling scholar. And then--and then the great bargain was
struck. I heard--yes, I did, I actually, and most distinctly, heard a
voice--Faust's--say, "_Let us the sensual deeps explore.... Plunge we in
Time's tumultuous dance, In the rush and roll of circumstance._" A
pause; then the Student's grave and astonished tones came to me: _Eritis
sicut Deus, scientes bonum et malum._ The cloak was spread, and on the
burning air Faust was wafted to his new life--nay, not to his new life
merely, but to life itself. He vanished with his guide in a coloured,
flower-like mist. I dropped my hand holding the book down upon the cold
rock by which the cold water splashed. It felt burning hot to my touch.
My head fell upon my breast, and I had my dreams--dreams of the life of
Faust and of its glories, gained by this bargain that he made. And
then--yes, then it was!--the voice of the burn, as from leagues away in
the bosom of this very mist, began to sing like a fairy voice, or a
voice in dreams, and in visions of the night, "_If it was so then, it
might be so now._" At first I scarcely heeded it, for I was enwrapt.
But the song grew louder, more insistent. It was travelling to me from a
far country. I heard it coming: "_If it was so then, it might be so
now_"--"_If it was so then, it might be so now._" How near it was at
last, how loud in my ears! And yet always there was something vague,
visionary about it, something of the mist, I think. At length I heard it
with the attention that is of earth. I came to myself, out of the narrow
Gothic chamber in which the genius of Goethe had prisoned me, and I
stared into the mist, which was gathering thicker as the night began to
fall. It seemed flower-like, and full of strange and mysterious colour.
I trembled. I got up. Still I heard the voice of the burn singing that
monotonous legend, on, and on, and on. Slowly I turned. I climbed the
bank of the den. The sheep scattered lethargically at my approach. I
passed through the creaking iron gate into the garden. Carlounie was
before me. There was something altered, something triumphant about its
aspect. The voice of the burn faded in a long diminuendo. Yet, even as I
gained the door of my house, and, before entering it, paused in an
attentive attitude, I heard the water chanting faintly from the
den--"_If it was so then, it might be so now._" ... As I came into the
hall, in which Gavin and Dr Wedderburn stood together talking earnestly,
I remember that I shivered. Yet my cheeks were glowing.

       *       *       *       *       *

From that moment not a day passed without my visiting the burn. It
summoned me. Always it sang those words persistently. The sound of the
water can be very faintly heard from the windows of Carlounie. Each day,
at dawn, I pushed open the lattice of my bedroom and hearkened to hear
if the song had changed. Each night, at moon-rise, or in the darkness
through which the soft and small rain fell quietly, I leaned over the
sill and listened. Sometimes the wind was loud among the mountains.
Sometimes the silence was intense and awful. But in storm or in
stillness the burn sang on, ever and ever the same words. At moments I
fancied that the voice was as the voice of a man demented, repeating
with mirthless frenzy through all his years one hollow sentence. At
moments I deemed it the cry of a fair woman, a siren, a Lorelei among my
rocks in my valley. Then again I said, "It is a spirit voice, a voice
from the inner chamber of my own heart." And--why I know not--at that
last fantasy I shuddered. Even in the midnight from my window ledge I
leaned while the world slept and I heard the mystic message of the burn.
My visits to its bed were not unobserved. One morning my cousin Gavin
said to me roughly, "Why the devil are you always stealing off to that
ditch"--so he called the den that was the home of my voice--"when you
ought to be practising to conquer your infernal deficiencies? Why, the
children of your own keepers laugh at you. Try to shoot straight, man,
and be a real man instead of dreaming and idling." I stared at him and
answered, "You don't understand everything." Once Dr Wedderburn, who had
been my tutor, said to me more kindly, "Alistair, action is better for
you than thought. Leave the burn alone. You go there to brood. Try to
work, for work is the best man-maker after all."

And to him I said, "Yes, I know!" and flew with a strong wing in the
face of his advice. For the voice of the burn was more to me than the
voice of Gavin, or of Wedderburn; and the mind of the burn meant more to
me than the mind of any man. And so the Autumn died slowly, with a
lingering decadence, and shrouded perpetually in mist. I often felt ill,
even then. My body was dressed in weakness. Perhaps already the fever
was upon me. I wish I could know. Was it crawling in my veins? Was it
nestling about my heart and in my brain? Could it be that?...

Certainly during this period life seemed alien to me, and I moved as one
apart in a remote world, full of the music of the burn, and full, too,
of vague clouds. That is so. Looking back, I know it. Still, I cannot be
sure what is the truth. In the late Autumn I paid my last visit to the
burn before my illness seized me. The cold of early Winter was in the
air and a great stillness. It was afternoon when I left the house
walking slowly with my awkward gait. My face, I know, was white and
drawn, and I felt that my lips were twitching. I did not carry my volume
of Goethe in my hand; but, in its place, held an old book on
transcendental magic. The voice of the burn--yes, that alone--had led me
to study this book. So now I took it down to the burn. Why? Had I the
foolish fancy of introducing my live thing of the den to this strange
writing on the black art? Who knows? Perhaps the fever in my veins put
the book into my hand. I shivered in the damp cold as I descended the
steep ground that lay about the water, which that day seemed to roar in
my ears the sentence I had heard so many days and nights. And this time,
as I hearkened, my heart and my brain echoed the last words--"_It might
be so now._" Gaining the edge of the burn, then in heavy spate, I
watched for a while the passage of the foam from rock to rock. I peered
into the pools, clouded with flood water from the hills, and with
whirling or sinking dead leaves. And all my meagre body seemed pulsing
with those everlasting words: "Why not now?" I murmured to myself, with
a sort of silent sneer, too, at my own absurdity. I remember I glanced
furtively around as I spoke. Grey emptiness, grey loneliness, dripping
bare trees through whose branches the mist curled silently, cold rocks,
the cold flood of the swollen burn--such was the blank prospect that met
my eyes.

There was no man near me. There was no one to look at me. I was remote,
hidden in a secret place, and the early twilight was already beginning
to fall. No one could see me. I opened my old and ragged book, or,
rather, let it fall open at a certain page. Upon it I looked for the
hundredth time, and read that he who would evoke the Devil must choose a
solitary and condemned spot. The burn was solitary. The burn was
condemned surely by the despair and by the endless incapacities of the
wretched being who owned it. I had taken off my shoes and placed them
upon a rock. My feet were bare. My head was covered. I now furtively
proceeded to gather together a small heap of sticks and leaves, and to
these I set fire, after several attempts. As the flames at last crept
up, the mist gathered more closely round me and my fire, as if striving
to warm itself at the blaze. The voice of the burn mingled with the
uneasy crackle of the twigs, and a murmur of its words seemed to emanate
also from the flames, two elements uniting to imitate the utterance of
man to my brain, already surely tormented with fever. And now, with my
eyes upon my book, I proceeded to trace with the sharp point of a stick
in some sandy soil between two rocks a rough Goetic Circle of Black
evocations and pacts. From time to time I paused in my work and glanced
uneasily about me, but I saw only the mists and the waters.

At length my task was finished, and the time had arrived for the
supreme effort of my insane and childish folly. Standing at Amasarac in
the Circle, I said aloud the formula of Evocation of the Grand Grimoire,
ending with the words "Jehosua, Evam, Zariat, natmik, Come, come, come."

My voice died away in the twilight, and I stood among the grey rocks
waiting, mad creature that I surely was! But only the rippling voice of
the burn answered my adjuration. Then I repeated the words in a louder
tone, adding menaces and imprecations to my formula. And all the time
the fire I had kindled sprang up into the mist; and the twilight of the
heavy Autumn fell slowly round me. Again I paused, and again my madness
received no satisfaction, no response. But it seemed to me that I heard
the browsing sheep on the summit of the right bank of the gully scatter
as if at the approach of some one. Yet there was no stir of footsteps.
It must have been my fancy, or the animals were merely changing their
feeding ground in a troop, as they sometimes will, for no assignable
cause. And now I made one last effort, urged by the voice of the burn,
which sang so loudly the words which had mingled with my dream of Faust.
I cried aloud the supreme appellation, making an effort that brought out
the sweat on my forehead, and set the pulses leaping in my thin and
shivering body. "_Chavajoth! chavajoth! chavajoth! I command thee by the
Key of Solomon and the great name Semhamphoras._"

       *       *       *       *       *

A little way up the course of the burn the dead wood cracked and
shuffled under the pressure of descending feet. Again I heard a
scattering of the sheep upon the hillside. My hair stirred on my head
under my cap, and the noise of the falling water was intolerably loud to
me. I wanted to hear plainly, to hear what was coming down to me in the
mist. The brush-wood sang nearer. In the heavy and damp air there was
the small, sharp report of a branch snapped from a tree. I heard it drop
among the ferns close to me. And then in the mist and in the twilight I
saw a slim figure standing motionless. It was vague, but less vague than
a shadow. It seemed to be a man, or a youth, clad in a grey suit that
could scarcely be differentiated from the mist. The flames of my fire,
bent by a light breeze that had sprung up, stretched themselves towards
it, as if to salute it. And now I could not hear any movement of the
sheep; evidently they had gone to a distance. At first, seized with a
strange feeling of extreme, almost unutterable fear, I neither moved nor
spoke. Then, making a strong effort to regain control of my ordinary
faculties, I cried out in the twilight--

"What is that? What is it?"

"Only a stranger who has missed his way on the mountain, and wants to go
on to Wester Denoon."

The voice that came to me from the figure beyond the fire sounded, I
remember, quite young, like the voice of a boy. It was clear and level,
and perhaps a little formal. So that was all. A tourist--that was all!

"Can you direct me on the way?" the voice said.

I gave the required direction slowly, for I was still confused, nervous,
exhausted with my insane practices in the den. But the youth--as I
supposed he was--did not move away at once.

"What are you doing by this fire?" he said. "I heard your voice calling
by the torrent among the trees when I was a very long way off."

Strangely, I did not resent the question. Still more strangely, I was
impelled to give him the true answer to it.

"Raising the Devil!" he said. "And did he come to you?"

"No; of course not. You must think me mad."

"And why do you call him?"

Suddenly a desire to confide in this stranger, whose face I could not
see now, whose shadowy form I should, in all probability, never see
again, came upon me. My usual nervousness deserted me. I let loose my
heart in a turbulent crowd of words. I explained my impotence of body
and of mind to this grey traveller in the twilight. I dwelt upon my
misery. I repeated the cry of the burn and related my insane dream of
imitating Faust, of making my poor pact with Lucifer, with the Sphinx of
mediæval terrors. When I ceased, the boy's voice answered:--

"They say that in these modern days Satan has grown exigent. It is not
enough to dedicate to him your own soul; but you must also pay a tribute
of souls to the Cæsar of hell."

"A tribute of souls?"

"Yes. You must bring, they say, the mystic number, three souls to
Satan."

Suddenly I laughed.

"I could never do that," I said. "I have no power to seduce man or
woman. I cannot win souls to heaven or to hell."

"But if you received new powers, such as you desire, would you use them
to win souls, three souls, to Lucifer?"

"Yes," I said with passionate earnestness. "I swear to you that I
would."

Suddenly the boy's voice laughed.

"_Quomodo cecidisti_, Lucifer!" he said. "When thou canst not contrive
to capture souls for thyself! But," he added, as if addressing himself
once more to me, after this strange ejaculation, "your words have,
perhaps, sealed the bond. Who knows? Words that come from the very heart
are often deeds. For, as we can never go back from things that we have
done, it may be that, sometimes, we can never go back from things that
we have said."

On the words he moved, and passed so swiftly by me into the twilight
down the glen that I never saw his face. I turned instinctively to look
after him; and, this was strange, it seemed that the wind at that very
moment must have turned with me, blowing from, instead of towards, the
mountain. This certainly was so; for the tongues of flame from my fire
bent backward on a sudden and leaned after the grey traveller, whose
steps died swiftly away among the rocks, and on the shuffling dead wood
and leaves of the birches and the oaks.

And then there came a singing in my ears, a beating of many drums in my
brain. I drooped and sank down by the fire in the mist. My fever came
upon me like a giant, and presently Gavin and Doctor Wedderburn,
searching in the night, found me in a delirium, and bore me back to
Carlounie.


II

THE SOUL OF DR WEDDERBURN

To emerge from a great illness is sometimes dreadful, sometimes divine.
To one man the return from the gates of death is a progress of despair.
He feels that he cannot face the wild contrasts of the surprising world
again, that his courage has been broken upon the wheel, that energy is
desolation, and sleep true beauty. To another this return is a
marvellous and superb experience. It is like the vivid re-awakening of
youth in one who is old, a rapture of the past committing an act of
brigandage upon the weariness of the present, a glorious substitution of
Eden for the outer courts where is weeping and gnashing of teeth. It
will be supposed that I found myself in the first category, a
terror-stricken and rebellious mortal when the fever gave me up to the
world again. For the world had always been cruel to me, because I was
afraid of it, and was a puny thing in it. Yet this was not so. My
convalescence was like a beautiful dream of rest underneath which riot
stirred. A simile will explain best exactly what I mean. Let me liken
the calm of my convalescence to the calm of earth on the edge of Spring.
What a riot of form, of scent, of colour, of movement, is preparing
beneath that enigmatic, and apparently profound, repose. In the simile
you have my exact state. And I alone felt that, within this womb of
inaction, the child, action, lay hid, developing silently, but
inexorably, day by day. This knowledge was my strange secret. It came
upon me one night when I lay awake in the faint twilight, shed by a
carefully shaded lamp over my bed. Rain drummed gently against the
windows. There was no other sound. By the fire, in a great armchair, the
trained nurse, Kate Walters, was sitting with a book--"Jane Eyre" it
was--upon her knees. I had been sleeping and now awoke thirsty. I put
out my hand to get at a tumbler of lemonade that stood on a table by my
pillow. And suddenly a thought, a curious thought, was with me. My hand
had grasped the tumbler and lifted it from the table; but, instead of
bringing my hand to my mouth I kept my arm rigidly extended, the tumbler
poised on my palm as upon the palm of a juggler.

"How long my arm is!" that was my thought, "and how strong!" Formerly it
had been short, weak, awkward. Now, surely, after my illness, my arms
would naturally be nerveless, useless things. The odd fact was that now,
for the first time in my life, I felt joy in a physical act. An absurd
and puny act, you will say, I daresay. What of that? With it came a
sudden stirring of triumph. I lay there on my back and kept my arm
extended for full five minutes by the watch that ticked by my bed-head.
And with each second that passed joy blossomed more fully within my
heart. I drank the lemonade as one who drinks a glad toast. Yet I was
puzzled. "Is this--can this be a remnant of delirium?" I asked myself.
And beneath the clothes drawn up to my chin I fingered my arm above the
elbow. It was the limb of a big, strong man. Surprise, supreme
astonishment forced an exclamation from my lips. Kate got up softly and
came towards me; but I feigned to be asleep, and she returned to the
fire. Yet, peering under my lowered eyelids, I noticed an expression of
amazement upon her young and pretty face. I knew afterwards that it was
the sound of my voice--my new voice--that drew it there. After that
night my convalescence was more than a joy to me, it was a rapture,
touched by, and mingled with something that was almost awe. Is not the
earth awe-struck when she considers that Spring and Summer nestle
silently in her bosom? With each day the secret which I kept grew more
mysterious, more profound. Soon I knew it could be a secret no longer.
The fever--it must be that!--had wrought magic within my body, driving
out weakness, impotence, lassitude, developing my physical powers to an
extent that was nothing less than astounding. Lying there in my bed, I
felt the dwarf expand into the giant. Think of it! Did ever living man
know such an experience before? A bodily spring came about within me.
And I was already twenty-two years old before the fever took me. My
limbs grew large and strong; the muscles of my chest and back were
tensely strung and knit as firmly as the muscles of an athlete. I lay
still, it is true, and felt much of the peculiar vagueness that follows
fever; but I was conscious of a supine, latent energy never known
before. I was conscious that when I rose, and went out into the world
again, it would be as a man, capable of holding his own against other
strong, straight men. That was a wonder. But it was succeeded by a
greater marvel yet.

One afternoon, while I was still in bed, Doctor Wedderburn came to see
me and to sit with me. He had been away on a holiday, and,
consequently, had not visited me before, except once when I had been
delirious. The doctor was a short, spare man, with a sharply cut
brick-red face, lively and daring dark eyes, and straight hair already
on the road to grey. His self-possession bordered on self-satisfaction;
and, despite his good heart and the real and anxious sanctity of his
life, he could seldom entirely banish from his manner the contempt he
felt for those less intellectual, less swift-minded than himself. Often
had I experienced the stinging lash of his sarcasm. Often had I withered
beneath one of his keen glances that dismissed me from an argument as a
profound sage might kick an urchin from the study into the street. Often
had I hated him with a sick hatred and ground my teeth because my mind
was so clouded and so helpless, while his was so lucent and so adroit.
So now, when I heard his tap on the door, his deep voice asking to come
in, a rage of self-contempt seized me, as in the days before my illness.
The doctor entered with an elaborate softness, and walked, flat-footed,
to my bed, pursing his large lips gently as men do when filled with
cautious thoughts. I could see he desired to moderate his habitual voice
and manner; but, arrived close to me, he suddenly cried aloud, with a
singularly full-throated amazement.

"Boy--boy, what's come to you?" he called. Then, abruptly putting his
finger to his lips, he sank down in a chair, his bright eyes fixed upon
me.

"It's a miracle," he said slowly.

"What is?" I asked with an invalid's pettishness.

"The voice, too--the voice!"

I grew angry easily, as men do when they are sick.

"Why do you say that? Of course I've been bad--of course I'm changed."

"Changed! Look at yourself--and praise God, Alistair."

He had caught up a hand-mirror that lay on the dressing-table and now
put it into my hand. For the first time since the fever I saw my face.
It was as it had been and yet it was utterly different, for now it was
beautiful. The pinched features seemed to have been smoothed out. The
mouth had become firm and masterful. The haggard eyes were alight as if
torches burned behind them. My expression, too, was powerful, collected,
alert. I scarcely recognised myself. But I pretended to see no change.

"Well--what is it?" I asked, dropping the glass.

The doctor was confused by my calm.

"Your look of health startled me," he answered, sitting down by the bed
and examining me keenly.

All at once I was seized by a strange desire to get up an argument with
this man, by whom I had so often been crushed in conversation. I leaned
on my elbow in the bed, and fixing my eyes on him, I said:--

"And why should I praise God?"

The doctor seemed in amazement at my tone.

"Because you are a Christian and have been brought back from death," he
replied, but with none of his usual half-sarcastic self-confidence.

"You think God did that?"

"Alistair, do you dare to blaspheme the Almighty?"

I felt at that moment like a cat playing with a mouse. My lips, I know,
curved in a smile of mockery, and yet I will swear--yes, even to my own
heart--that all I said that day I said in pure mischief, with no evil
intent. It seemed that I, Alistair Ralston, the dolt, the ignoramus,
longed to try mental conclusions with this brilliant and opinionated
divine. He bade me praise God. In reply I praised--the Devil, and I
forced him to hear me. Absolutely I broke into a flood of words, and he
sat silent. I compared the good and evil in the scheme of the world,
balancing them in the scales, the one against the other. I took up the
stock weapon of atheism, the deadly nature, the deadly outcome of free
will. I used it with skill. The names of Strauss, Comte, Schopenhauer,
Renan, a dozen others, sprang from my lips. The dreary doctrine of the
illimitable triumph of sin, of the appalling mistake of the permission
granted it to step into the scheme of creation, in order that its
presence might create a _raison d'être_ for the power of personal action
one way or the other in mankind--such matters as these I treated with a
vehement eloquence and command of words that laid a spell upon the
doctor. Going very far, I dared to exclaim that since God had allowed
his own scheme to get out of gear, the only hope of man lay in the
direction of the opposing force, in frank and ardent Satanism.

When at length I ceased from speaking, I expected Dr Wedderburn to rise
up in his wrath and to annihilate me, but he sat still in his chair with
a queer, and, as I thought, puzzled expression upon his face. At last he
said, as if to himself:

"The miracle of Balaam; verily, the miracle of Balaam."

The ass had indeed spoken as never ass spoke before. I waited a moment,
then I said:--

"Well, why don't you rebuke me, or why don't you try to controvert me?"

Again he looked upon me, very uneasily I thought, and with something
that was almost fear in his keen eyes.

"Ah!" he said, "I have praised the Lord many a morning and evening for
his gift of words to me. It seems others bestow that gift too.
Alistair"--and here his voice became deeply solemn--"where have you been
visiting when you lay there, mad to all seeming? In what dark place have
you been to gather destruction for men? With whom have you been
talking?"

Suddenly, I know not why, I thought of the grey stranger, and, with a
laugh, I cried:--

"The grey traveller taught me all I have said to you."

"The grey traveller! Who may he be?"

But I lay back upon the pillows and refused to answer, and very soon the
doctor went, still bending uneasy, nervous eyes upon me.

In those eyes I read the change that had stolen over my intellect, as in
the hand-mirror I had read the change that had stolen over my face. This
strange fever had caused both soul and body to blossom. I trembled with
an exquisite joy. Had Fate relented to me at last? Was it possible that
I was to know the joys of the heroes? I longed for, yet feared my full
recovery. In it alone should I discover how sincere was my
transformation. Doctor Wedderburn did not come to me again. The days
passed, my convalescence strengthened, watched over by the pretty nurse,
Kate Walters, a fresh, pure, pious, innocent, beautiful soul, tender,
temperate, and pitiful for all sorrow and evil. At length I was well. At
length I knew, to some extent, my new, my marvellous self. For I had,
indeed, been folded up in my fever like a vesture, and, like a vesture,
changed. I had grown taller, expanded, put forth mighty muscles as a
tree puts forth leaves. My cheeks and my eyes glowed with the radiance
of strong health. I went out with my cousin Gavin, whose estate marched
with mine, and I shot so well that he was filled with admiration, and
forthwith conceived a sort of foolish worship for me--having a
sportsman's soul but no real mind. For the first time in my life I felt
absolutely at home on a horse, an unwonted skill came to my hands, and I
actually schooled Gavin's horses over some fences he had had set up in a
grass park at the Mains of Cossens. The keepers who had once secretly
jeered at me were now at my very feet. Their children looked upon me as
a young god. I rejoiced in my strength as a giant. But I asked myself
then, as I ask myself now--what does it mean? The days of miracles are
over. Yet, is this not a miracle? And in a miracle is there not a gleam
of terror, as there is a gleam of stormy yellow in the fated opal? But
here I leave my condition of body alone, and pass on to the episode of
Doctor Wedderburn, partially related in the newspapers of the day and
marvelled at, I believe, by all who ever knew, or even set eyes upon
him.

The doctor, as I have said, did not come again to see me, but I felt an
over-mastering desire to set forth and visit him. This was surprising,
as hitherto I had rather avoided and hated him. Now something drew me to
the Manse. At first I resisted my inclination, but a chance word led me
to yield to it impulsively. Since my illness I had not once attended
church. Moved by a violent distaste for the religious service, that was
novel in me, I had frankly avowed my intention of keeping away. But, as
I did not go to the kirk, I missed seeing Dr Wedderburn; and I wanted to
see him. One day, leaning by chance against a stone dyke in the Glen of
Ogilvy, smoking a pipe and enjoying the soft air of Spring as it blew
over the rolling moorland, I heard two ploughmen exchange a fragment of
gossip that made excitement start up quick within me.

One said:--

"The doctor's failin'. Man, he was fairly haverin' last Sabbath, on and
on, wi'out logic or argeyment or sense."

The other answered:--

"Ay; he's greatly changed. He's no the man he was. It fairly beats me; I
canna mak' it out. Ye've heard that--" And here he lowered his voice and
I could not catch his words.

I turned away from the wall, and walking swiftly, set out for the Manse
with a busy mind. The afternoon was already late, and when I gained a
view of the Manse, a cold grey house standing a little apart in a grove
of weary-looking sycamores, one or two lights smiled on me from the
small windows that stared upon the narrow and muddy road. The minister's
study was on the right of the hall door; and, as I pulled the bell, I
observed the shadow of his head to dance upon the drawn white blind, a
thought fantastically, or with a palsied motion, I fancied. The
yellow-headed maidservant admitted me with a shrunken grin, that
suggested wild humour stifled by achieved respect, and I was soon in the
minister's study. Then I saw that Doctor Wedderburn was moving up and
down the room, and that his head was going this way and that, as he
communed in a loud voice with himself. My entrance checked him as soon
as he observed me, which was not instantly, as, at first, his back was
set towards me and the mood-swept maid. When he turned about, his
discomposure was evident. His gaze was troubled, and his manner, as he
shook hands with me, had in it something of the tremulous, and was
backward in geniality. We sat down on either side of the fire, the tea
service and the hot cakes, loved of the doctor, between us. At first we
talked warily of such things as my recovery, the weather, the condition
of affairs in the parish and so forth. I noticed that though the
doctor's eyes often rested with an almost glaring expression of scrutiny
or of surprise upon me, he made no remark on the change of my
appearance. Nor did I on the change of his, which was startling, and
suggested I know not what of sorrow and of the attempt to kill it with
evil weapons. The healthy brick-red of his complexion was now become
scarlet and full of heat; his mouth worked loosely while he talked; the
flesh of his cheeks was puffed and wrinkled; his eyes had the clouded
and yet fierce aspect of the drunkard. But, absurdly enough, what most
struck me in him was his abstinence from an accustomed act. He drank
his tea, but he ate no hot cakes. This was a departure from an
established, if trifling custom of many years' standing, and worked on
my imaginative conception of what the doctor now was more than would, at
the first blush, appear likely, or even possible. Instead of, as of old,
feeling myself on the worm level in his presence, I was filled with a
sense of pity, as I looked upon him and wondered what subtle process of
mental or physical development or retrogression had wrought this dreary
change. Presently, while I wondered, he put his cup down with an awkward
and errant hand that set it swaying and clattering in the tray, and said
abruptly:--

"And what have you come for, Alistair, eh? what have you come for? To go
on with what you've begun? Well, well, lad, I'm ready for you; I'm ready
now."

His voice was full of timorous irritation, his manner of pitiable
distress.

"I've thought it out, I've thought it all out," he continued; "and I can
combat you, I can combat you, Alistair, wherever you've got your
fever-mind from and your fever-tongue."

I knew what he meant, and suddenly I knew, too, why I had wanted so
eagerly to come to the Manse. My instinct of pity and of sympathy died
softly away. My new instinct of cruel rapture in the ruthless exercise
of my--shall I call them fever-powers then?--woke, dawned to sunrise.
And Doctor Wedderburn and I fell forthwith into an animated theological
discussion. He was desperately nervous, desperately ill at ease. His
argumentative struggles were those of a drowning man positively
convinced--note this,--that he would drown, that no human or divine aid
could save him. There was, too, a strong hint of personal anger in his
manner, which was strictly undignified. He fought a losing battle with
bludgeons, and had an obvious contempt for the bludgeons while in the
act of using them in defence or in attack. And at last, with a sort of
sharp cry, he threw up his hands, and exclaimed in a voice I hardly knew
as his:--

"God forgive you, Alistair, for what you're doing! God forgive
you--murderer, murderer!"

This dolorous exclamation ran through me like cold water and chilled all
the warmth of my intellectual excitement.

"Murderer!" I repeated inexpressively.

Doctor Wedderburn sat in his chair trembling, and looking upon me with
despairing and menacing eyes, the eyes of a man who curses but cannot
fight his enemy.

"Of a soul, of a soul," he said. "The poisoned dagger?--doubt, the
poisoned dagger--you've plunged it into me, boy."

Then raising his voice harshly, he exclaimed:

"Curse you, curse you!"

I was thunderstruck. I declare it here, for it is true. I had
defamed--and deliberately--the doctor's dearest idols. I had driven my
lance into his convictions. I had blasphemed what he worshipped, and had
denied all he affirmed. But that I had made so terrific an impression
upon his mind, his soul--this astounded me. Yet what else could his
passionate denunciation mean? Had I, a boy, unused to controversy,
unskilled in dialectics, overthrown with my hasty words the faith of
this strong and fervent man? The thought thrilled one side of my dual
nature with triumph, pierced the other with grim horror. My emotions
were divided and complex. As I sat silent, my face dogged yet ashamed,
the doctor got up from his chair trembling like one with the palsy.

"Away from me--away," he cried in a hoarse voice, and pointing at the
door. "I'll have no more talk with the Devil, no more--no more!"

I had not a word. I got up and went, bending a steady, fascinated look
upon this old mentor of mine, who now proclaimed himself my victim.
Arrived in the garden I found a thin moon riding above the sycamores,
and soft airs of Spring playing round the doctor's habitation.
Strangely, I had no mind to begone from it immediately. I crossed the
garden bit and paced up and down the country lane that skirted it,
keeping an eye upon the lighted window of the study. So I went back and
forth for full an hour, I suppose. Then I heard a sound in the Spring
night. The doctor's hall door banged, and, peering through the privet
hedge that protected his meagre domain, I perceived him come out into
the air bareheaded. He took his way to the small path that ran by the
hedge parallel to the lane, coming close to the place by which I
crouched, spying upon his privacy. And there he paced, bemoaning aloud
the ill fate that had come upon him. I heard all the awful complaining
of this soul in distress, besieged by doubts, deserted by the faith and
hope of a lifetime. It was villainous to be his audience. Yet, I could
not go. Sometimes the poor man prayed with a desolate voice, calling
upon God for a sign, imploring against temptation. Sometimes--and this
was terrible--he blasphemed, he imprecated. And then again he prayed--to
the Devil, as do the Satanists. I heard him weeping in his garden in the
night, alone under the sycamores. It was a new agony of the garden and
it wrung my heart. Yet I watched it till the spectral moon waned, and
the trees were black as sins against the faded sky.

About this time, as I have said, his parishioners began to mark the
outward change of Dr Wedderburn that signified the inward change in him.
The talking ploughmen had their fellows. All who sat under the doctor
were conscious of a difference, at first vague, in his eloquent
discourses, of a diminuendo in the full fervour of his delivery and
manner. Gossip flowed about him, and presently there were whisperings
of change in his bodily habits. He had been seen by night wandering
about his garden in very unholy condition, he who had so often rebuked
excess. Children, passing his gate in the dark of evening, had endured
with terror his tipsy shoutings. A maidservant left him, and spread
doleful reports of his conduct through the village. By degrees, rumours
of our minister's shortcomings stole, like snakes, into the local
papers, carefully shrouded by the wrappings that protect scandal-mongers
against libel actions. The congregation beneath the doctor's pulpit
dwindled. Women looked at him askance. Men were surly to him, or--and
that was less kind--jocular. I, alone, followed with fascination the
paling to dusk of a bright and useful career. I, alone, partially
understood the hell this poor creature carried within him. For I often
heard his dreary night-thoughts, and assisted, unperceived of him, at
the vigils that he kept. The lamp within his study burned till dawn
while he wrestled, but in vain, with the disease of his soul, the malady
of his tortured heart.

One night in Summer time, towards midnight, I bent my steps furtively to
the Manse. It was very dark and the weather was dumb and agitating. No
leaf danced, no grass quivered. Breathless, dead, seemed the woods and
fields, the ocean of moorland, the assemblage of the mountains. I heard
no step upon the lonely road but my own, and life seemed to have left
the world until I came upon the Manse. Then I saw the light in the
doctor's window, and, drawing near, observed that the blind was up and
the lattice thrust open among the climbing dog-roses. Craftily I stole
up the narrow garden path, and, keeping to the side of the window,
looked into the room.

Doctor Wedderburn lounged within at the table facing me. A pen was in
his shaking hand. A shuffle of manuscript paper was before him, and a
Bible, in which he thrust his fingers as if to keep texts already looked
out. Beyond the Bible was a bottle, three-quarters full of whiskey, and
a glass. His muttering lips and dull yet shining eyes betokened his
condition. I saw before me a drunkard writing a sermon. The vision was
sufficiently bizarre. A tragedy of infinite pathos mingled with a comedy
of hideous yet undeniable humour in the live picture. I neither wept nor
did I laugh. I only watched, shrouded by the inarticulate night. The
doctor took a pull at the bottle, then swept the leaves of the Bible....

"Let me die the death of the righteous," he murmured thickly. "That's
it--that's--that's--" He wrote on the paper before him with a wandering
pen, then pushed the sheet from him. It fell on the floor by the window.

"And let my last end be like his--Ah--ah!"

He drank again, and again wrote with fury. How old and how wicked he
looked, yet how sad! He crouched down over the table and the pen broke
in his hand. A dull exclamation burst from him. Taking up the bottle, he
poured by accident some of the whiskey over the open Bible.

"A baptism! A baptism!" he ejaculated, bursting into laughter.
"Now--now--let's see--let's see."

Again he violently turned the sodden leaves and shook his head. He could
not read the words, and that angered him. He drank again and again till
the bottle was empty, then staggered out of the room. I heard his
frantic footsteps echoing in the uncarpeted passage. Quickly I leaned in
at the window and caught up the sheet of paper that had fallen to the
floor. I held it up to the light. Only one sentence writhed up and down
over it, repeated a dozen times; "There is no God!" While I read I heard
the doctor returning, and I shrank back into the night. He came
stumbling in, another whiskey bottle full in his hand. Falling down in
the chair he applied his lips to it and drank--on and on. He was killing
himself there and then. I knew it. I wanted to leap into the room, to
stop him, yet I only watched him. Why?--I want to know why--

At last he fell forward across the Bible with a choking noise. His limbs
struggled. His arms shot out wildly, the table broke under him--there
was a crash of glass. The lamp was extinguished. Darkness crowded the
little room--and silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

The papers recorded the shocking death of a minister. They did not
record this.

As I stole home that night, alone in my knowledge of the doctor's
appalling end, I heard going before me light and tripping footsteps,
those, apparently, of some youth, not above three yards or so from me.
What wanderer thus preceded me, I asked myself, with a certain tingling
of the nerves, shaken, perhaps, by what I had just seen? I paused. The
steps also paused. The person was stopping too. I resumed my way. Again
I heard the tripping footfalls. Their sound greatly disquieted me, yet I
hurried, intending to catch up the wayfarer. Still the steps hastened
along the highway, and always just before me. I ran, yet did not come up
with any person. I called "Stop! Stop!" There was no reply. Again I
waited. This man--or boy--(the steps seemed young) waited also. I
started forward once more. So did he. Then a fury of fear ran over me,
urging me at all hazards to see in whose train I travelled. We were now
close to Carlounie. We entered the policies. Yes, this person turned
from the public road through my gates into the drive, and the footfalls
reached the very house. I stopped. I dared not approach quite close to
the door. With trembling fingers I fumbled in my pocket, drew out my
match-box, and, in the airless night, struck a match. The tiny flame
burned steadily. I stretched my hand out, approaching it, as I supposed,
to the face of the stranger.

But I saw nothing. Only, on a sudden, I heard some one hasten from me
across the sweep of gravel in the direction of the burn. And then, after
an interval, I heard the rush of startled sheep through the night.

Just so had they scattered on the day I spoke with the grey traveller by
the waterside.


III

THE SOUL OF KATE WALTERS

It is more than two years since I wrote down any incident of my life.
Two years ago I seemed to myself a stranger. To-day an intimacy has
sprung up between myself and that observant, detached something within
me--that little extra spirit which looks on at me, and yet is, somehow,
me. I am at home with my own power. I am accustomed to my strength of
personality. From my fever I rose like some giant. Long ago my world
recognised the obedience it owed me. Long ago, by many signs, in many
ways, it taught me the paramount quality of the emanation from my soul
that is called my influence. Yet sometimes, even now, I seem to stare at
myself aghast, to turn cold when I am alone with myself. I am seized
with terrible fancies. I think of the voice of the burn. I think of that
childish Autumn ceremony upon its bank among the mists and the flying
leaves. I think of the grey youth who spoke with me in the twilight, and
my soul is full of questions. I muse upon the Wandering Jew, upon Faust,
upon Van Der Decken, upon the monstrous figures that are legends, yet
sometimes realities to men. And then--and this is ghastly--I say to
myself, can it be that I, too, shall become a legend? Can it be that my
name will be whispered by the pale lips of good men long after I am
dead? For, is there not a whirl of white faces attending my progress as
the whirl of dead leaves attends the Autumn? Do I not hear a faint
symphony of despairing cries like a dreadful music about my life? Is not
my power upon men malign? Boys with their hopes shattered, men with
their faiths broken, women with their love turned to gall--do they not
crowd about my chariot wheels? Or is it my vain fancy that they do? Here
and there from the sea of these beings one rises like a drowned creature
whom the ocean will not hide, stark, stiff, corpse-like. Doctor
Wedderburn was the first. Kate Walters is the second--Kate Walters.

       *       *       *       *       *

When my convalescence was well advanced she left Carlounie and went back
to Edinburgh. Some months afterwards I heard casually that she was
working in an hospital there. But a year and a half went by before I saw
this girl again. Her fresh, pure, ministering face had nearly faded
from my memory. Yet, she had attended intimately upon my marvellous
transformation from my death of weakness to the life of strength. She
had lifted me in her girl's arms when I was nothing. Yes, I had been in
her arms then. How strange, how close are the commonest relations
between the invalid and his nurse! When I chanced to meet Kate again I
had no thought of this. I had forgotten. I came to Edinburgh on some
business connected with a mine discovered on my estate, which seemed
likely to make a great fortune for me, and is already on the way to
accomplishing this first duty of a mine. My business done, I stayed on
at my hotel in Princes Street amusing myself, for I had a multitude of
friends in Edinburgh. One of these friends was a medical student
attached to the hospital there, and he chanced to invite me to go with
him through the wards one day. In one of the wards I encountered Kate
Walters, fresh, clear, calm as in the old Carlounie days of my illness.
She did not know me till I recalled myself to her recollection; then she
looked into my face with the frankest astonishment. My superb physique
amazed her, although she had attended upon its beginnings. I asked after
her life in the interval since our last meeting; and she told me, with a
delightful blush, that her period of nursing was nearly concluded, as
she was engaged to be married to one Hugh Fraser, a handsome, rich,
and--strange thing this!--most steadfast youth, who lived in England in
the south, and who loved her tenderly. I congratulated her, and was on
the point of moving away down the ward with my friend when my eyes were
caught again by Kate's blushing cheeks and eyes alight with the fiery
shames and joys of love. How beautiful is the human face when the
torches of the heart are kindled thus. How beautiful! I paused, and,
before I went, invited Kate to tea one afternoon at my hotel. She
accepted the invitation. Why not? In our meeting the old chain of
sympathy between patient and nurse seemed forged anew. We felt that we
were indeed friends. As we left the ward, my student chum chaffed me--I
let his words go by heedlessly. I was not in love with Kate, but I was
half in love with her love for Hugh Fraser. It had such pretty features.
She came to tea and told me all about him; and when she talked of him
she was so fascinating that I was loath to let her go. It was a sweet
evening, and, as Kate had not to be back at the hospital early, I
suggested that we should go for a stroll on Carlton Hill, and talk a
little more about Hugh Fraser. The bribe tempted her. I saw that. And
she agreed after a moment's hesitation.

There is certainly an influence that lives only out of doors and can
never enter a house, or exercise itself within four walls. There is a
wandering spirit in the air of evening, a soul that walks with
gathering shadows, speaks in the distant hum of a city, and gazes
through its twinkling lights. _There is a grey traveller who journeys in
the twilight._ (What am I saying? To-day, as I write, I am full of
fancies.) I felt that, so soon as Kate and I were away from the hotel,
out under the sky and amid the mysteries of Edinburgh, we were changed.
In a flash our intimacy advanced, the sympathy already existing between
us deepened. Leaving the streets, we mounted the flight of steps that
leads to the hill, and joined the few couples who were walking, almost
like gods on some Olympus, above the world. They were all obviously
lovers. I pointed this fact out to Kate, saying, "Hugh Fraser should be
here, not I."

She smiled, but scarcely, I thought, with much regret. For the moment it
seemed that a confidant satisfied her; and this pleased me. I drew her
arm within mine.

"We must not alarm the lovers," I said. "We must appear to be as they
are, or we shall carry a fiery sword into their Eden."

"You seem to understand us very well," she answered with a smile. And
she left her arm in mine.

The mention of "us" chilled me. It seemed to set me outside a magic
circle within which she, Hugh Fraser, these people sauntering near us,
like amorous ghosts in the dimness, moved. I pressed her arm ever so
gently.

"Tell me how lovers feel at such a time as this," I whispered, looking
into her eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

From Carlton Hill at night one sees a heaving ocean of yellow lights,
gleaming like phosphorescence on ebon waves. Towards Arthur's Seat,
towards the Castle, they rise; by Holyrood, by the old town, they fall.
That night I could fancy that this sea of light spoke to me, murmured in
my ear, urging me to prosecute my will, ruthlessly stirring a strange
and, perhaps, evanescent romance in my heart. I know that when I parted
from Kate that night I bent and kissed her. I know that she looked up at
me startled, even terrified, yet found no voice to rebuke me. I know
that I did not leave Edinburgh, as I had originally intended, upon the
morrow. And I know this best of all--that I had no ill-intent in
staying. I was caught in a net of impulse despite my own desire. I was
held fast. There are--I believe it unalterably now--influences in life
that are the very Tsars of the empires of men's souls. They must be
obeyed. Possibly--is it so I wonder?--they only mount upon their thrones
when they are urgently invoked by men who, as it were, say, "Come and
rule over us!" But once that invocation has been made, once it has been
responded to, there is never again free will for him who has rashly
called upon the power he does not understand, and bowed before the
tyrant whose face he has not seen. I tremble now, as I write; I tremble
as does the bond slave. Yet I neither speak with, nor hear, nor have
sight of, my master. Unless, indeed--but I will not give way to any
madness of the brain. No, no; I do not hear, I do not see, although I am
conscious of, my Tsar, whose unemancipated serf I am.

I need not tell all the story of my soul's impression that was stamped
upon the soul of Kate Walters. Perhaps it is old. Certainly it is sad. I
stamped deceit upon the nature which had not known it, knowledge of evil
where only purity had been, satiety upon temperance. And, worst of all,
I expelled from this girl's heart love for a good man who loved her, and
planted, in its stead, passion for a--must I say a bad, or may I not
cry, a driven man? And all this time Hugh Fraser knew nothing of his
sorrow, growing up swiftly to meet him like a giant. Even now, while I
write these words, he knows nothing of it. As I had carelessly taken
possession of the mind, the very nature of Dr Wedderburn, so now I took
possession of the very nature of Kate Walters. My immense strength, my
abounding physical glory drew her--who had known me a puny
invalid--irresistibly. I won the doctor by my mind; this girl, in the
main, I think, by my body. And when at length I tired of her slightly,
the woman, the gentle woman, sprang up a tigress. I had said one night
that, since I was obliged to go to London, we must part for a while. I
had added that it was well Hugh Fraser lived in complete ignorance of
his betrayal.

"Why?" Kate suddenly cried out.

"Because--because it is best so. He and you--some day."

I paused. She understood my meaning. Instantly the tigress had sprung
upon me. The scene that followed was eloquent. I learned what lives and
moves in the very depths of a nature, stirred by the inexhaustible greed
of passion, twisted by passion's fulfilment, the ardent touched by the
inert. But upon that hurricane has followed an immense and very strange
calm. Kate is almost cold to me, though very sweet. She has acquiesced
in my departure for town. She has come to one mind with me on the
subject of Hugh Fraser. More, she has even written a letter to him
asking him to come to her, pressing forward their marriage, and I am to
be the bearer of it to him. This is only a woman's whim. She insists
that I must see once the man who is to be her husband.

So, after all, the tragedy of Dr Wedderburn is not to be repeated. I--I
shall not hear, stealing along the steep and windy streets of Edinburgh,
any--any strange footsteps.

       *       *       *       *       *

What is the awful fate that pursues me? A year ago I left Edinburgh
carrying with me the letter which I understood to contain the request
of Kate Walters to her lover, Hugh Fraser, to hasten on their marriage.
As the train roared southwards, I congratulated myself on my clever
management of a woman. I had, it is true, stepped in between Kate and
the calm happiness she had been anticipating when I first met her in the
hospital ward. But now I had withdrawn. And, I told myself, in time. All
would be well. This girl would marry the boy who loved her. She would
deceive him. He would never know that the girl he married was not the
girl he originally loved. He would never perceive that a human being had
intervened between her and purity, truth, honour. In this letter--I
touched it with my fingers, congratulating myself--Hugh Fraser would
read the summons to the future he desired, the future with Kate Walters.
His soul would rush to meet hers, and surely, after a little while, hers
would cease to hold back. She would really once more be as she had been.
I forgot that no human soul can ever retreat from knowledge to
ignorance.

Hugh Fraser's rooms in London were in Piccadilly. Directly I arrived in
town I wrote him a note, saying that I was from Edinburgh with a message
from Kate Walters for him. I explained that she had nursed me through a
severe illness, and hoped I might have the pleasure of making his
acquaintance. In reply, I received a most friendly note, begging me to
call at an hour on the evening of the following day.

That evening I drove in a hansom from the Grand Hotel to Piccadilly,
taking Kate's note with me. I was conscious of a certain excitement, and
also of a certain moral exultation. Ridiculously enough, I felt as if I
were about to perform a sort of fine, almost paternal act, blessing
these children with genuine, as opposed to stage, emotion. Yes; I glowed
with a consciousness of personal merit. How incredible human beings are!
Arrived at Hugh Fraser's rooms, I was at once shown in. How vividly I
remember that first interview of ours, the exact condition of the room,
Hugh's attitude of lively anticipation, the precise way in which he held
his cigarette, the grim, short bark of the fox-terrier that sprang up
from a sofa when I came in. Hugh was almost twenty-four years old,
rather tall, slim, with intense, large, dark eyes--full of shining
cheerfulness just then--very short, curling black hair, and fine,
straight features. His expression was boyish; so were his movements. As
soon as he saw me, he sprang forward and gave me an enthusiastic
welcome--for the sake of Kate, I knew. He led me to the fire and made me
sit down. I at once handed him my credentials, Kate's letter. His face
flushed with pleasure, and his fingers twitched with the desire to tear
it open, but he refrained politely, and began to talk--about her, I
confess. I understood in three minutes how deeply he was in love with
her. I told him all about her that might please him, and hinted at the
contents of the letter.

"What!" he exclaimed joyously. "She wants to hasten on our marriage at
last. And she's kept me off--but you know what girls are! She couldn't
leave the hospital immediately. She swore it. There were a thousand
reasons for delay. But now--by Jove!"

His eyes were suddenly radiant, and he clutched hold of my hand like a
schoolboy.

"You are a good chap to bring me such a letter," he cried.

"Read it," I said, again filled with moral self-satisfaction, vain,
paltry egoist that I was.

"No, no--presently."

But I insisted; and at length he complied, enchanted to yield to my
importunity. He opened the letter, and, as he broke the seal, his face
was like morning. Never shall I forget the change that grew in it as he
read. When he had finished his face was like starless night. He looked
old, haggard, black, shrunken. I watched him with a sensation that
something had gone wrong with my sight. Surely radiance was fully before
me and my tricked vision saw it as despair. Raising his blank, bleak
eyes from the letter, Hugh stared towards me and opened his lips. But no
sound came from them. He frowned, as if in fury at his own dumbness.
Then at last, with a sharp shake of his head sideways, he said in a low
and dry voice:

"You know what is in this letter, you say?"

"I--I thought so," I answered, growing cold and filled with anxiety.

"Well, read it, will you?"

I took the paper from his hand and read:--

   "DEAR HUGH,--Make the man who brings you this letter marry me.
   If you don't, I will kill myself; for I am ruined. KATE."

I looked up at Hugh Fraser over the letter which my hand still
mechanically held near my eyes. I wonder how long the silence through
which we stared lasted.

       *       *       *       *       *

A month later I was married to Kate Walters!


IV

THE SOUL OF HUGH FRASER

It may seem strange that my influence upon the soul of Hugh Fraser
should follow upon such a situation as I have just described; but
everything connected with my life, since the day when I met the grey boy
by the burn, has been utterly strange, utterly abnormal. My treachery,
one would have thought, must have led Fraser to hate me. I had wrecked
his happiness. I had done him the deepest injury one man can do to
another, and at first he hated me. When he had wrung from me a promise
to marry Kate, he left me, and I did not see him again until after the
wedding. But then, it seemed, he could not keep away from her. For he
forgave us the wrong we had done him; and, after a while, wrote a
friendly letter in which he suggested that we should all forget the
past.

"Why should I not see you sometimes?" he concluded. "I only wish you
both good, there is no longer any evil in my heart."

Poor boy! It was to be, I suppose. The Tsar of the empire of my soul set
forth his edict, and one winter day carriage wheels ground harshly upon
the gravel sweep, and Hugh Fraser was my guest at Carlounie. I welcomed
him upon the very spot where those light footsteps paused that black
night of Doctor Wedderburn's dreary end. And the faint sound of the burn
mingled with our voices in greeting and reply.

The boy was changed. He had aged, grown grave, heavier in movement,
fiercer in observation, less ready in speech. But his manner was
friendly even to me, and it was plain to see that Kate still had his
heart. They met quietly enough, but a flush ran from his cheek to hers
as they touched hands. Their voices quivered when they spoke a
commonplace of pleasure at the encounter. So the wheels of Fate began
slowly to turn on this winter's day.

I must tell you that my fortunes had greatly changed before Hugh Fraser
came to Carlounie. I was grown rich. My investments, my speculations had
prospered almost miraculously. The mine I have spoken of was proving a
gold mine to me. All worldly things went well with me--all worldly
things, yes.

Now, I believe that all mighty circumstances are born tiny, like
children, at some given moment. As a rule, they usually seem so
insignificant, so puny at the birth, that we take no heed of the fact
that they have come into being, and that, in process of time, they will
grow to might, perhaps to horrible majesty. Only, when we trace events
backwards do we know the exact moment when their first faint wail broke
upon our mental hearing. Generally this is so. But I affirm that I felt,
at the very time of its first coming, the presence of the shadow, the
tiny shadow of the events which I am about to describe. I even said to
myself, "This is a birthday."

Among many improvements on my estate I had built a new Manse, in which,
of course, our new minister lived. The old habitation of Doctor
Wedderburn stood empty and deserted among its sycamores. One winter's
day Hugh Fraser, Kate, and I, in our walk, passed along the lane by the
now ragged privet hedge through which I had so often observed the
doctor's agonies. It was a black and white day of frost, which crawled
along the dark trees and outlined twig and branch. The air was misty,
and distant objects assumed a mysterious importance. Slight sounds, too,
suggested infinite activities to the mind. As we neared the Manse, Hugh
Fraser said to me:--

"Who lives in that old house?"

"Nobody," I replied.

Hugh glanced at me very doubtfully.

"Nobody," I reiterated.

"Really," he rejoined. "But the garden?"

"Is deserted."

"Hardly," he exclaimed, pointing with his hand. "Look!"

"Yes," said Kate, as if in agreement.

And she grew duskily pale.

I looked over the privet hedge, seeing only the rank and frost-bitten
grass, the wild bushes and narrow mossy paths. Then I stared at my two
companions in silence. Their eyes appeared to follow the onward movement
of some object invisible to me.

"The old man makes himself at home," Hugh said. "He has gone into the
summer-house now."

"Yes," Kate said again.

There was fear in her eyes.

I felt suddenly that the air was very chill.

"That house is unoccupied," I repeated shortly.

We all walked on in silence. But, through our silence, it certainly
seemed to me that there came a sound of some one lamenting in the
garden.

A day or two later Fraser said to me:--

"Why is that old house shut up?"

"Who would occupy it?" I said. "Of course, if I could get a tenant--"

"I'll take it," he rejoined quickly. "You can let me some shooting with
it, can't you?"

"But," I began; and then I stopped. I had an instinct to keep the old
Manse empty, but I fought it, merely because it struck me as
unreasonable. How seldom are our instincts unreasonable! God--how
seldom!

"I've been looking out for a shooting-box," Hugh said. "That house would
suit me admirably."

"All right," I answered. "I shall be very glad to have you for a
tenant."

So it was arranged. When Kate heard of the arrangement, I observed her
to go very pale; but she made no objection. Hugh Fraser rented the
house, furnished it, engaged servants, a gardener, enlarged the stables,
and took up his abode there. Doctor Wedderburn's old study was now his
den. When I looked in at the window through which I had seen the doctor
die, I saw Fraser smoking, or playing with his setters. I don't know
why, but the sight turned me sick.

My relations with Kate, of which I have said nothing, were rather cold
and distant. My passion, such as it was, had died before marriage. Hers
seemed to languish afterwards. I believe that she had really loved me,
but that the shame of being with me, after I had wedded her actually
against my will, struck this sentiment to the dust. When one feeling
that has been very strong dies, its place is generally filled by
another. Sometimes I fancied that this was so with Kate, that the
bitterness of shattered self-respect gradually transformed her nature,
that a cruel frost bound the tendernesses, the warm vagaries of what had
been a sweet woman's heart. But, to tell the truth, I did not trouble
much about the matter. My affairs were prospering so greatly, my health
was so abounding, I had so much beside the mere egotism of brilliant
physical strength to occupy me, that I was heedless, reckless--at first.
Yet, I had moments of a dull alarm connected with the dweller at the
Manse.

If Hugh Fraser changed as he read that fateful letter in London, he
changed far more after he came to live at the Manse. And it seemed to me
that there were times when--how shall I put it?--when he bore a curious,
and, to me, almost intolerable likeness to--some one who was dead. A
certain old man's manner came upon him at moments. His body, in sitting
or standing, assumed, to my eyes, elderly and damnable attitudes. Once,
when I glanced in at the study window before entering the Manse, I
perceived him lounging over a table facing me, a pen in his hand and
paper before him, and the spectacle threw all my senses into a violent
and most distressing disorder. Instead of going into the house, as I had
intended, I struck sharply upon the glass at the window. Fraser looked
up quickly.

"What--what are you writing?" I cried out.

He got up, came to the window, and opened it.

"Eh? What's the row, man?" he said. "Why don't you come in?"

I repeated my question, with an anxiety I strove to mask.

"Writing? Only a letter to town," he said, looking at me in wonder.

"Not a sermon?" I blurted forth.

"A sermon? Good heavens, no. Why should I write a sermon?"

"Oh," I replied, forcing an uneasy laugh. "You--you live in a Manse.
Doctor Wedderburn used to write his sermons in that room."

That evening I remember that I said to Kate:

"Don't you think Fraser is getting to look very old at times?"

"I haven't observed it," she replied coldly.

Another curious thing. Very soon after he took up his abode in the
Manse, Fraser, who had been a godly youth, became markedly averse to
religion. He informed us, with some excitement, that he had changed his
views, and seemed much inclined to carry on an atheistical propaganda
among the devout people of the neighbourhood. He declared that much evil
had been wrought by faith in Carlounie, and appeared to deem it as his
special duty to preach some sort of a crusade against the accepted
Christianity of the parish. I began to combat his views, and once sought
the reason of his ardour and self-election to the post of teacher. His
answer struck me exceedingly. He said:--

"Why should I be the one to clear away these senseless beliefs in
phantasms, you say? Why, because I suppose they were woven by my
predecessor in the Manse. Didn't the minister live and die there? Do you
know, Ralston, sometimes, as I sit in that study at night, I have a
feeling that instead of turning to what is called repentance when he
died, the minister turned the other way, recanted in his last hour the
faith he had professed all through his life, and expired before he could
give words to his new mind and heart. And then I feel as if his
influence was left behind him in that room, and fell upon me and imposed
on me this mission."

And as he spoke, he suddenly plucked at his face with an old, habitual
action of Doctor Wedderburn's when excited. I scarcely restrained a cry,
and with difficulty forced myself to go out slowly from his presence.
Nevertheless, I felt strongly impelled to fight against the atheism of
this boy, I who had formerly sown the seeds of destruction in the soul
of Doctor Wedderburn. But it was as if my own act of the past rose and
conquered me in the present. I declare solemnly it was so. Some
emanation from the poor dead creature's soul clung round that cursed
place of his doom, and, seizing upon the soul of Fraser, spread tyranny
from its throne. And whom did it take first as its victim, think you?
Kate, my wife.

Let our individual beliefs be what they may, one thing we must all--when
we think--acknowledge, that the pulse which beats eternally in the heart
of life is reparation.

Kate, as I have said, was originally finely pure and finely dowered with
the blessings of faith in a divine Providence, trust in the eventual
redemption of the world, hope that sin, sorrow, and sighing would,
indeed, flee away, and all mankind find eternal and unutterable peace.
In my worst moments I had never tried to destroy this beauty of her
soul; and, in her fall, now repaired, she had never abandoned her
religion. It was, I know, a haunting memory of the last moments of the
doctor that held me back from ever attacking the faith of another. For
myself, I did not think much of my future beyond death. Life filled my
horizon then.

But now, after a short absence in England, during which I left Kate at
Carlounie, I returned to find her infected with Fraser's pestilent
notions. She declined to go to the kirk, declaring that it was better to
act up to her real convictions than to set what is called a good example
to her dependants. She and Fraser gloried openly in their new-found
damnation. I say damnation, for this was actually how the matter struck
me when I began carefully to consider it. Men often see only what
irreligion really is and means when they find it existing in a woman. I
was appalled at this deadly fire flaring up in the heart of Kate, and I
set myself, at first feebly, at length determinedly, to quench it and
stamp it out.

But I fought against my own former self. I fought against the influence
of the spectre that surely haunted the Manse, and that spectre rose
originally from the very bosom of the burn at my summons. Am I mad to
think so? No, no. Oh, the eternal horror that may spring from one wild
and lawless action, from the recital of one diabolic litany! This was
surely the strangest, subtlest reparation that ever beat in the
inexorable heart of Life. Hugh Fraser was enveloped by the influence,
still retained mysteriously in his abode, of the soul that was gone to
its account. Through him it seized upon Kate, and thus the mystic number
was made up, three souls were bound and linked together. (I hear as I
write the voice of the grey traveller by the burn in the twilight.) And
in the first soul I had planted the seed of death, and so in the second
and in the third. Now, thrusting as it were backward through Kate and
Hugh Fraser, I fought with a dead man, long ago, perhaps, wrapped in
pain unknown. But, as the influence of Doctor Wedderburn had
formerly--before the fever--dominated my influence, so now it dominated
my influence from the tomb. Indeed, this man whom I had destroyed had a
drear revenge upon me. There had been an interregnum when the doctor
wavered from Christianity to atheism. But that had ceased to be. He died
undoubting, a blatant unbeliever. Hence, surely, his deadly power now.
He returned, as it were, to slay me. The spectre at the Manse defied me.

Slowly I grew to feel, to know, all this. It did not come upon me in a
moment; for sometimes my worldly affairs still occupied me. My glory of
health and of strength still delighted me. I was as Faust--I was as
Faust in his monstrous and damnable youth. But there came a time when
the spectre at the Manse touched me with the hand of Hugh Fraser. And
then I rose up to battle with it, trembling at the thought of the grey
boy's words at the thought of the Cæsar of hell whose tribute was three
human souls.

Kate and I were taking tea one evening with Fraser. We sat around the
hearth, by which was placed the table with the tea-service and the hot
cakes. Fraser began, as was his habit now, to discuss religious subjects
and to rail against the professors of faith. Kate listened to him
eagerly--a filthy fire, so I thought, gleaming in her great eyes. I was
silent, watching. And presently it seemed to me that Fraser's gestures
in talking grew like the dead gestures of the doctor. He threw his
hands abroad with the fingers divided in a manner of Wedderburn's. He
struck his knees sharply, and simultaneously, with both his palms to
emphasise his remarks, a frequent habit of the dead man's. So vehement
was the similarity that I began presently to feel that the doctor
himself declaimed in the firelight, and I was seized with a desire to
combat effectively his wicked, but forcible arguments. I broke in, then,
upon Fraser's tirade and cried the cause of religion. He turned upon me,
dealt with my pleas, scattered my contentions--growing, I fancied, very
old and with the rumbling voice of age,--thrust at me with the lances of
sarcasm, sore belaboured me into silence and mute fury. And all the time
Kate sat by, and I seemed to see her soul, with fluttering outstretched
wings, sinking down to hell, as a hawk drops out of sight into a dark
cleft of the mountains. And then, in the last resort, Fraser struck his
hand down on mine to clinch his defeat of me. And I, looking upon that
poor Kate, cried out:--

"God forgive you, Fraser, for what you're doing--murderer! murderer!"

Scarcely had my cry died away than I knew I had borrowed the very words
of Wedderburn to me. A cold, like ice, came upon me. This reversal of
the past in the present was too ironic. I heard the doctor chuckling
drearily in Hades. I suddenly sprang up like one pursued, and got away
into the night, leaving Kate and Fraser together by the fire. But the
spectre of the Manse surely pursued me. I heard its soft but heavy
footsteps coming in my wake. I heard its old laughter in the dark behind
me; and I sickened and faltered, and was in fear beyond all human fear
of an enemy. The next day I told Fraser he must leave the Manse; I would
build him a shooting-lodge on any part of my estate that he preferred.

"No," he said, "no; I have grown to love the old place; I never feel
alone there."

I looked in his eyes, searching after his meaning.

"I would rather pull down the Manse," I said.

In reply, he touched with his forefinger the lease I had signed with
him, which lay on his writing-table.

"You cannot, my friend," he said.

I cannot do anything that I would. I am driven on a dark road by the
creature with the whip that is surely after every man who once yields to
his worst desires.

Just after this I received a visit from Mr. Mackenzie, the new minister,
a young and fervent, but not very knowledgeable man, whose zeal was
red-hot, but incompetent, and who would have died for the faith he could
never properly expound, like many young ministers of our church. The
little man was in a twisting turmoil of distress, and was moved, so he
said, to deal very plainly with me. I bade him deal on. It seemed that
his flock was becoming infected with atheism, which spread like the
plague, from the old Manse. The young children lisped it to each other
in the lanes; lovers talked it between their kisses; youths chattered
perdition at the idle corner by the church wall. Even the old began to
look askance at the Bible that had been their only book of age, and to
shiver wantonly at the inevitable approach of death. The young minister
cried denunciation upon Fraser, like a vague-minded, but angry Jonah
before a provincial Nineveh.

"Turn him out, Mr. Ralston, drive him forth," he ejaculated. "What is
his rent to you? What is his money in comparison with the immortal souls
of men? Away with him, away with him."

I mentioned the small matter of the lease. The young minister, with a
quivering scarlet face, replied stammering:--

"A lease! But--but--your own wife--she is--is--"

"I do not discuss her," I said sternly.

"Well; they are deserting the services. You see that yourself. They will
not come to hear me preach. They will not listen to me."

The man was tasting bitterness. He was almost crying. I was terribly
sorry for him. Yet, all I could do was to think of the spectre at the
Manse and answer:--

"I can do nothing."

His words were true. Carlounie's soul was being devoured as by a plague.
A colony of unbelievers was springing up in the midst of the beautiful
woods and the mountains. Soon the evil fame of the place began to spread
abroad, and men, in distant parts of Scotland, to speak of mad
Carlounie. The matter weighed intolerably upon me, and at last became a
fixed idea. I could think of nothing else but this devil's home in the
hills, this haunted and harassed centre of doom and darkness which was
my possession and in which I lived. I fell into silence. I ceased to
stir abroad beyond my own land. It seemed to me that Carlounie should
keep strict quarantine, should be isolated, and that each person who
went over its borders carried a strange infection and was guilty of
murder. I forbade Kate to drive beyond my estates.

"I never wish to," she said.

And I knew that where Fraser was she was happy. He had her soul fast by
this; or, it would be truer to say, the spectre of the Manse had both
him and her. And he aged apace and bore on his countenance the stamp of
evil. And I brooded and brooded upon the whole matter. But, from
whatever point I started, I came back to the Manse and to the spectre
dwelling in it with Hugh Fraser. I had given death to Doctor Wedderburn,
in return for the life so miraculously given to me, and now his spirit,
retained in its ancient abiding-place, spread death about it in its
turn. This was, and is, my conviction. The influence of the departed
clings to roof, to walls, to floors, leans on the accustomed
window-seat, trembles by the bed-head, sits by the hearthstone, stands
invisible in the passage way. _To kill it one must destroy its home._ It
was my duty to kill it, therefore it was my duty to destroy the Manse.
This thought at length took complete possession of me, and, following
it, I strove in every imaginable way to oust Fraser from the house among
the sycamores. But he would not go. He loved the place, he said. He
stood by his lease and I was powerless.

Oh, God, I have, surely I have, my excuse for what I have done! I meant
to be a saviour, not a destroyer! I would have restored Fraser and my
poor Kate to their freedom of heart. That was what I meant. Ay, but the
grey traveller fought against me. Shut up here by night in my house, on
the verge of--that which I cannot, dare not speak of, I declare that I
am guiltless. Let him bear the burden, him alone! In these last moments,
before my deed is known, I write the truth that men may exonerate me.
This is the truth.

Overwhelmed with this idea that Carlounie must be rescued, that Hugh
Fraser and Kate must be rescued from this damnation that was preying
upon them, I determined, secretly, on the destruction of the Manse, in
which the spectre of the doctor stayed to work such evil. But, to do
this, I must first make sure that Hugh Fraser was at a distance, and
that his small household--he only kept two servants, hired from the
village--were away from the haunted dwelling. I, therefore, suggested to
Fraser that he should come and spend a week with me, and give his maids
a holiday. After a little demur, and drawn, I see now, by his hidden
passion for Kate, he accepted my invitation. He dismissed the maids to
their homes for a week, and moved over to us. When the minister knew of
it, he, no doubt, fully included me in his prayers for the damnation of
those who worked evil among his flock. Will he ever read these pages, I
wonder? Kate was now an avowed atheist, and she and Fraser were
continually together, glorying in their complete freedom from old
prejudices, and their new outlook upon life. They had, I heard them say,
broken through the ties that bound poor, terrified Christians; and, when
they said this, they smiled, the one upon the other. I did not then know
why. Meanwhile, I was preparing for my deed of redemption, as I called
it, and meant it to be. I was resolved to go out by night to the empty
Manse, and secretly to set it in flames. It stood alone. The country
people slept sound at night. I calculated that if I chose midnight for
my act none would see the flames, and, ere the peasants woke at dawn,
the Manse and the spectre within it would be destroyed for ever. Such
was my belief--such the spirit in which I prepared myself for this
strange work.


V

THE RETURN OF THE GREY TRAVELLER

I write these last words after the dead of night, towards the coming of
the dawn. Ere the light is grey in the sky I shall be away to the burn
to meet him, the grey traveller. He is there waiting for me. He has come
back. I go to meet him, and I shall never return. Carlounie will know my
face no more. All is done as he ordained. My words have been as deeds,
have marched on inevitably to actual deeds. Long ago he said that
sometimes, even as we can never go back from things that we have done,
we can never go back from things that we have said. So, indeed, it is.

According to my fixed intention, I determined on a night for the
destruction of the Manse. The house was old and would burn like tinder.
I should break into it through the window of the study, which was never
shuttered. I should set fire to the interior at several points, and
escape in the darkness of the night. By dawn the accursed place would be
a ruin, and then--then I looked for a new era. Fool! Fool! I looked to
see the burden of the vile influence of the spectre lifted from the soul
of Fraser, and so from the soul of Kate, which was infected by him. I
looked to see my people sane and satisfied as of old, Carlounie no more
a plague-spot in the land, that poor and zealous man, the minister, calm
and at rest with his little faithful flock once more. All this I looked
for confidently. And so, when the black and starless night of my deed
came, I was happy and serene. That night Kate pleaded a headache, and
went to bed very early, before nine. She begged me not to come to her
room to bid her good-night, as she wanted perfect quiet and sleep. All
unsuspecting, I agreed to her request. Soon after she had gone, Fraser,
who had seemed heavy with unusual fatigue all through the evening, also
went off to bed, and I was left alone. But it was not yet time for me to
start on my errand of the darkness. The burning Manse would surely
attract attention before midnight. People might be out and about in the
village. A belated peasant might be on his way home by the lane that
skirted the privet hedge. I must wait till all were sleeping. The time
seemed very long. Once I fancied I heard a movement in the house--again
I dreamed that soft and hurried footsteps upon the gravel outside broke
on the silence. But I said to myself that I was nervous, highly strung
because of my strange project, that my imagination tricked me. At last
the hour came. Without going upstairs I drew on my thickest overcoat,
took my hat and a heavy stick, opened the hall door, and passed out into
the night. It was still and very cold, and the voice of the burn came
loudly to my ears. Treading quietly, I made my way into the road, and
set forth along it in the direction of the Manse. The ground was hard,
and scarcely had I gone a few yards before I thought that some one was
furtively following me. I stopped rather uneasily, and listened, but
heard nothing. I went on, and again seemed aware of distant footsteps
treading gently behind me. The sound made me suppose that some one of my
household must be after me, moved by curiosity as to the reason of my
present pilgrimage; but I was not minded to be watched, so I turned
sharply, yet very softly, around and faced the way I had come. I
encountered no one, nor did I any longer catch the patter of feet. So,
reckoning that my nerves must be playing with me, I pursued my way. But
the whole of the distance between my dwelling and the Manse I seemed
vaguely to hear a noise of one treading behind me. And, although I said
to myself that there was nobody out beside myself, I was filled with the
stir of a shifting uneasiness. I entered the lonely and narrow lane that
led beside the Manse, and presently arrived in front of the house; when,
what was my astonishment to perceive a light gleaming in the study
window. My hand was on the gate when it went out, and all the front of
the house was black and eyeless. For so brief a moment had I seen the
light that I was moved to think that it, too, existed, like the sound of
steps, only in my excited brain. Nevertheless, I did not go up at once
to the house, but paced the lane for a full half-hour, always--so it
seemed to me--tracked by some one. But, since I kept turning about, and
the footfalls were always at my back, I grew certain that they were
nothing more nor less than a fantasy on my part. It must have been well
after twelve when I summoned courage to enter the garden and to approach
the Manse. The steps, I thought, followed me to the gate and then
paused, as if a sentinel was posted there to keep watch. Arrived at the
stone step which preceded the hall door, I, too, paused in my turn and
listened. Did the spectre that inhabited this abode know of my coming,
of my purpose? Was it crouching within, like some frantic shadow,
fearful of its impending fate? Or was it, perhaps, preparing to attack,
to repel me? Strangely, I had now no fear of it, or of anything. I was
calm. I felt that my deed was one of rescue, even though, by performing
it, I wrought destruction. I moved to the study window, and was about to
smash in the glass with my heavy stick when a mad idea came to me to try
the hall door. I put my hand upon it and found it not locked. This
opening of the door sent a shiver through me, and a ghastly sense of the
occupation of this deserted abode. I was filled again with an acute
consciousness of the indwelling spectre, whom, in truth, I came to
murder. But, I reasoned, this door has been left unbarred by the
carelessness of Fraser's servants, that is all.

I stood on the lintel, struck a match and set it to a candle end which
I drew from my coat pocket. The flame burned up, showing the narrow
passage, the umbrella stand, the doors on either side. I entered the
study softly, looking swiftly on all sides of me as I did so. Did I
expect a vision of Doctor Wedderburn lounging at the table, his fingers
thrust into a Bible? I scarcely know; but I saw nothing except the
grimly standing furniture, the lamp on the table, the vacant chairs, the
books in their shelves. I listened. There was no rustle of the spectre
that I came to kill. Did it watch me? Did it see me there? I set fire to
the room, passed quickly to the chamber on the other side of the
passage, from thence to the kitchen and the dining-parlour, leaving a
track of dwarf flames behind me. The means of destruction I had prepared
and carried with me. They availed. When I once more reached the garden,
the ground floor of the Manse was in a blaze. But now came the
incredible event which I must chronicle before I go down to the burn for
the last time.

Having gained the garden, I waited there in the darkness to watch my
work progress. I saw the light within the Manse, at first a twinkle,
grow to a glare. I heard the faint crackle of the burning rooms increase
to a soft and continuous roar. And, as I watched and listened, a mighty
sense of relief ran through me. Thus did I burn up my past! thus did I
sacrifice grandly and gladly the ill spirit my wild desires had evoked!
Thus--thus! All the base of the Manse was red-hot, when, on a sudden, I
heard a great shout that seemed to come from the sky. Light sprang in an
upper window. There followed a sound like the smash of glass, and I saw
two arms shoot out, the top part of a figure and a face framed in the
glare. I deemed it the vision of the poor spectre that I destroyed. I
looked upon it and fancied I could detect the tortured lineaments of the
doctor, his accustomed gestures distorted by fear and fury. But then I
seemed to see behind him another figure, struggling, and to hear the
failing scream of a woman. But the flames from below leaped to the roof.
The floors fell in with an uproar. The figure, or figures, disappeared.

Trembling I turned to go, my mind shuddering at the thought of the
apparition I had seen. I got into the lane and hastened towards home.
Soon the burning Manse was out of sight, and I was swallowed up in the
intense darkness.

Now, as I went along, a terrible and very peculiar sensation came upon
me. I heard no footsteps; all was silence. Yet I seemed to be aware that
I was closely companioned, that at my very side something--I knew not
what--walked, keeping pace with me. And so close did I believe this
thing to be, that at moments I even felt it pressing against me like a
slim figure in the night. Once, when it thus nestled to me, as if in
affection, I could not refrain from crying out aloud. I stretched forth
my arms to grasp this surely amorous horror of the darkness, but found
nothing, and pursued my road in a sweat of apprehension. And still, the
thing was certainly with me, and seemed, I thought, to praise me as I
walked, as the good man is praised on his journey. My great horror was
that this creature that I could not see, could not hear, could not feel,
and yet was so sharply conscious of, was _well disposed towards me_. My
heart craved its hatred--but it loved me I knew. My soul demanded its
curses. I almost heard it bless me as I moved. My knees knocked
together, my limbs were turned to wax, as it was borne in upon me that I
had surely done this terror that walked in darkness a service of some
kind. To be pursued in fury by one of the dreadful beings that dwell in
the borderland beyond our sight is sad and dreary; but to be followed
thus by one as by a dog, to be fawned upon and caressed--this is
appalling. I longed to shriek aloud. I broke into a run, and, like one
demented, gained the gate of Carlounie; but always the thing was with
me--full of joy and laudation. At the house door I paused, facing round.
I was moved to address this thing I could not see.

"Who is it that walks with me?" I cried, and my voice was high and
strained.

A voice I knew, young, clear, level, a little formal, answered out of
the darkness:--

"It is I."

It was the voice of the grey traveller whom I had seen long ago by the
burnside. I leaned back against the door and my shoulders shook against
it.

"What do you want of me?"

"I come to thank you."

"What, then, have I done?"

"You have brought the tribute money."

I did not understand, and I answered:--

"No. One soul I may have destroyed, but two I have saved to-night. For I
have slain the spectre that preyed upon them and I have set them free
from bondage."

The voice answered:--

"_Go into the house and see._"

Then again I was filled with apprehension. I turned to go in at my door,
and, as I did so, I heard footsteps treading in the direction of the
burn, and a fading voice which cried, like an echo:--

"And then come to me."

And, as the voice died, I heard the rush of sheep in the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

Filled with nameless fear and a cold apprehension, I entered the house,
and, led by some cruel instinct, made my way to Kate's room. The lamp
she always had at night burned dimly on the dressing-table and cast a
grave radiance upon an empty bed.

What could this mean?

I stole to the room of Fraser, bearing the lamp with me. His chamber was
also untenanted; but, on the quilt of the bed, lay a piece of paper
written over. I took it up and read--with the sound of the burn in my
ears:--

   "You stole her from me. I take back my own. To-night we stay
   at the old Manse. To-morrow we shall be far away. HUGH FRASER."

The paper dropped from my hand upon the quilt. A woman's scream rang in
my ears above the roar of flames. I understood.

       *       *       *       *       *

The tribute money has been paid. I go down to the burn. The grey
traveller is waiting there for me.

  ROBERT HICHENS.
  FREDERIC HAMILTON.



AN ECHO IN EGYPT


That lustrous land of weary music and wild dancing, of reverend tombs
and pert Arabs, that Egypt of plagues and tourists, to whose sandy bosom
Society flocks, affects her visitors in many different ways. Bellairs
went to her under the fixed impression that he was a cynic, and found
that he was a romanticist. Very acute in mind, he had long flattered
himself on being unimpressionable; and he was much inclined to think
that to be insensitive was to be strong with the best kind of strength.
He loved to lay stress on all that was devil-may-care in his character,
and to put aside all that was prone to cling, or weep, or wonder, or
pray, and he fancied that if he cultivated one side of his mind
assiduously he could eliminate the other sides. In England, in London,
the process had seemed to be successful. But Egypt gave to him illusions
with both hands, and, against his will, he had to accept them. Protests
were unavailing, and soon he ceased to protest, and told himself the
horrid fact that he was a sentimentalist, perhaps even a poet. Good
heavens! a Bellairs--a poet! His soldier ancestors seemed forming a
square and fixing bayonets to resist the charging notion. And yet--and
yet--

Instead of playing pool after dinner at night, Bellairs found himself
wandering, like Haroun Al Raschid, through the narrow ways of Cairo,
mixing with the natives, studying their loves, and drinking their
coffee. There were moments, retrograde moments, when he even wished to
wear their dress, to drape his long-limbed British form in a flowing
blue robe, and wrap his dark head in a bulging white turban. He resisted
this devil of an idea; but the fact that it had ever come to him
troubled him. And, partly to regain his manhood, his hard scepticism,
his contempt of outside, delicate influences, he went up the Nile--and
succumbed utterly to fantasy and to old romance. "I am no longer Jack
Bellairs," he told himself one day, as the steamer on which he travelled
neared Luxor on its way down the river from the First Cataract--"I am
somebody else; some one who is touched by a sunset, and responsive to a
gleam of rose on the Libyan Mountains, some one who dreams at night when
the pipes wail under the palm-trees, some one who feels that the great
river has life, and that the desert owns a wistful soul, and has a sweet
armour with silence. Good-bye, Jack Bellairs! Go home to England--I stay
here."

And that evening he left the steamer, and took a room for a month at the
Luxor Hotel. And that evening he cast the skin of his former self, and
emerged, with fluttering wings, from the chrysalis of his identity. He
was a bachelor, aged twenty-eight, and he was travelling alone; so
there was no critical eye to mark the change in him, no chattering
tongue to express surprise at his pleasant abandonment to the follies
which make up the lives of sensitive artists and refined sensualists who
can differentiate between the promenade of the "Empire," and the garden
of love. As he stepped out into the Arab-haunted village that night,
after dinner, Bellairs breathed a sigh of relief. For a month he would
let himself go. Where to? He bent his steps towards the river, the Nile
that is the pulsing blood in the veins of Egypt. Moored in the shadow of
its brown banks lay a string of bright-eyed dahabeeyahs. From more than
one of them came music. Bellairs, his cigarette his only companion,
strolled slowly along listening idly in a pleasant dream. A woman's
voice sang, asking "Ninon" what was her scheme of life. A man beat out
his soul at the feet of "Medje." And, upon the deck of the last
dahabeeyah, a woman played a fantastic mazurka. Bellairs was fond of
music, and her performance was so clever, so full of nuances,
understanding, wild passion, that he stood still to remark it more
closely.

"She has known many things, good and evil," he thought, as his mind
noted the intellect that spoke in the changes of time, the regret and
the gaiety that the touch demonstrated so surely and easily, as the mood
of the composition changed. The music ceased.

"Betty," a woman's voice said, in English, but with a slight French
accent, "I want to see the stars. This awning hides them. Come for a
little walk."

"Yes; I want to see the stars too, and the awning does hide them," a
girl's voice answered. "Do let us take a little walk."

Bellairs smiled, as he said to himself, "The first voice is the voice of
the musician, and the second voice seems to be its echo." He was still
standing on the bank when the two women stepped upon the gangway to the
shore and climbed to the narrow path.

As they passed him by they glanced at him rather curiously. One was a
woman of about thirty, dark, with a pale, strong-featured face. The
other was a fair, aristocratic-looking girl, not more than seventeen.

"She is the echo," Bellairs thought. "Rather a sweet one." Then, at a
distance, he followed them, and presently found them sitting together in
the garden of the Hotel. He sat down not far off. A man, whom he knew
slightly, spoke to them, and afterwards crossed to him.

"That lady plays very cleverly," Bellairs said.

"Mademoiselle Leroux, you mean--yes. You know her?"

"Not at all. I only heard her from the river bank."

"She is travelling with Lord Braydon. She is a great friend of Lady
Betty Lambe, his daughter."

"That pretty girl?"

"Yes. Shall I introduce you?"

"I should be delighted."

A moment later Bellairs was sitting with the two ladies and talking of
Egypt. It seemed to him that they were the first nurses to dandle his
new baby-nature, this nature which Egypt had given to him, and which
only to-night he had definitely accepted. Perhaps this fact quickly
cemented their acquaintance. At any rate, a distinct friendship began to
walk in their conversation, and Bellairs found himself listening to
Mdlle. Leroux, and looking at Lady Betty, with a great deal of interest
and of admiration. Presently the former said:--

"I knew you would be introduced to us to-night."

Bellairs was surprised.

"When?" he asked.

"When we passed you just now on the bank of the Nile."

"I knew we should too," said Lady Betty.

"You must be very intuitive," said Bellairs.

"Women generally are," remarked Mdlle. Leroux.

"Yes. Do your intuitions tell you whether our acquaintance will be long
and agreeable?"

"Perhaps--but I never prophesy."

"Why?"

"Because I am always right."

"Is that a valid reason for abstention?"

"I think so. For in this world those who look forward generally see
darkness."

"I cannot achieve a proper pessimism in Upper Egypt," Bellairs replied.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week later, Bellairs felt quite certain that there had never been a
period in his life when he had not known and talked with Mdlle. Leroux
and Lady Betty Lambe. Lord and Lady Braydon asked him to lunch on the
dahabeeyah almost every day, and he often strolled down to tea without
invitation. Then, in the afternoon, there were donkey expeditions to
Karnak, or across the river to the tombs of the kings, to the desert
villa of Monsieur Naville, to ancient Thebes, to the two Colossi. Lord
Braydon was consumptive and was spending the winter and spring in Egypt.
Lady Braydon seldom left his side, and so it happened that Bellairs and
his two acquaintances of the garden were often alone together. Bellairs
became deeply interested in them, and for a rather peculiar reason. He
was fascinated by the extraordinary sympathy that existed between the
two women--if Lady Betty could be called a woman yet. Mdlle. Leroux had
obtained so strong an influence over the girl that she seemed to have
grafted not only her mind, but her heart, her apparatus of emotions and
of affections, on to Lady Betty's. What the former silently thought,
the latter silently thought too, and when the silence died in
expression, they frequently spoke almost the same sentence
simultaneously. Sometimes Mdlle. Leroux would express some feeling with
vehemence to Bellairs when Lady Betty was out of hearing, and an hour or
two afterwards, with only a slightly fainter vehemence, Lady Betty would
express the same feeling. Indeed, these two women seemed to have only
one heart, one soul, between them, the heart and soul that had
originally been the sole property of the elder one.

"You are very generous," said Bellairs one day to Mdlle. Leroux.

"Why?" she asked in surprise.

"You give away things that most of us have only the power to keep."

"What do you mean?"

"Some day, perhaps, I will tell you."

Clarice Leroux was tremendously impulsive, and she had taken an
immediate and strong liking to Bellairs. In this Lady Betty, as usual,
coincided. But when Clarice's liking passed through self-revelations,
confidences, towards a stronger feeling, it was rather strange to find
Lady Betty still treading in her footsteps, still ever succeeding her in
her attitudes of mind and of heart. Yet the inevitable double
flirtation, apparently expected and desired by the two women, was
strangely gilded by novelty; and, at first, Bellairs played as happily
with these two dual natures as a child plays with two doll
representatives of Tweedledum and Tweedledee. For, at first, he
possessed the child's power of detachment, and felt that he could at any
moment discard dolls for soldiers, or a Noah's Ark, and still keep
happiness in his lap. But most things have an inherent tendency to
become complicated if they are let alone and allowed to develop free
from definite guidance, and presently Bellairs became conscious of
advancing complications. His intellectual appreciation of a new
situation began to degenerate into a more emotional condition, which
disturbed and irritated him. It seemed that he was peering through the
bars of the gate that guards the garden of passion. Which of the two
women did he see in the garden?

He told himself that, having regard to the circumstances of the case, he
ought to see both of them. Unfortunately, a vision of that kind never
has been, and never will be, seen by a man. The temple in which the idol
sits always makes a difference in the nature of our worship of the idol.
Bellairs was forced to recognise this fact. And the temple in which sat
the idol of Lady Betty's nature attracted him more than the temple in
which sat the idol of Mdlle. Leroux's nature. He came to this conclusion
one afternoon at Karnak. They three were hidden away in a stone nook of
this great stone forest, enshrined from the gaze of tourists by mighty
rugged pillars, walled in by huge blocks of antique masonry that threw
cold shadows whence the lizards stole to seek the sun. The blue sky was
broken to their gaze by a narrow section of what had been, doubtless,
once a wide-spread roof. A silence of endless ages hung around them in
this haven fashioned by dead men and living Time.

Mdlle. Leroux had been boiling a kettle; and they sipped tea, and, at
first, did not talk. But tea unlooses the bonds of speech. After their
second cups they felt communicative.

"One week gone out of my four," Bellairs said, "and each will seem
shorter-lived than its forerunner."

"You go in three weeks from now?" said Mdlle. Leroux, with an uneven
intonation that betokened a sudden awakening to the finality of things.

"Yes; at the end of January."

"And we are here until nearly the end of March."

"Yes," said Lady Betty; "it will seem a very long time. February will be
eternal."

"It is the shortest month in the year," Bellairs remarked.

Mdlle. Leroux looked at him sarcastically.

"You English are so prosaic," she exclaimed. "Any Frenchman would have
understood."

"What?"

"That we were paying you a compliment."

"Perhaps I did understand it, and preferred not to show my
comprehension; there is such a thing as modesty!"

"There is--such a thing as false modesty!"

"Exactly," remarked Lady Betty.

"I will accept your compliment gladly," said Bellairs, looking at Lady
Betty.

"Mine?" asked Clarice Leroux.

"Yes," Bellairs replied.

The consciousness that he cared very much more for such a pretty meaning
in Lady Betty than in Clarice Leroux led him then, for the first time,
to that Garden Gate. He looked at Lady Betty again with a new feeling.
She returned his gaze quietly. Then he turned his eyes to those of
Clarice. Hers were fixed upon him with a curious violence. He had a
momentary sensation, literally for the first time, that these two women
after all, had not one soul, one heart, between them. They did not feel
quite simultaneously. Lady Betty was always a step behind Clarice. Yes,
that was the difference between them. However quickly the echo follows
the voice that summons it, yet it must always follow. Would Lady Betty
never cease to follow? Bellairs found himself wondering eagerly, for
that afternoon a strange certainty came to him. He knew, in a flash,
that Clarice, if she did not already love him, was on the verge of
loving him. He knew now that he loved Lady Betty. But she didn't love
him yet, was not even quite close to loving him. Had she been in Egypt
alone, divorced from Clarice, Bellairs believed that he would not have
attracted her. He attracted her through Clarice, because he attracted
Clarice. Could he make her love him in the same way? It would be a
curious, subtle experiment to try to win one woman's heart by winning
another's: Bellairs silently decided to make it. All the rest of that
afternoon he talked to Clarice, showing to her the new self that Egypt
had given him, the poetry which had ousted the prose inherited from a
long line of ancestors, the sentiment of which he was no longer ashamed
now he felt it to be a weapon with which he might win two hearts, the
heart that contained another heart, as one conjurer's box contains a
hundred others.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I knew it when I first saw you," Clarice said. "Directly I looked at
you that evening on the bank I knew it."

"How strange," Bellairs answered.

"And you--did you know it when you heard me playing?"

"That mazurka! Remember I am a man."

They were sitting in the garden. It was night. Very few people were out,
for a great Austrian pianist was playing in the public drawing-room, and
the little world of Luxor sat at his feet relentlessly. They two could
hear, mingling with a Polonaise of Chopin, the throbbing of tom-toms in
the dusty village, the faint and suggestive cry of the pipes, which fill
the soul at the same time with desire, and regret for past desire killed
by gratification. Bellairs had been making love to Clarice, and she had
told him that she loved him. And he had kissed her and his kiss had been
returned.

"Will this kiss, too, have its echo?" he thought; and his eyes travelled
towards the lighted windows of the drawing-room behind which Lady Betty
sat. He turned again to Clarice.

"Do you believe in echoes?" he asked.

"Echoes!"

"That each thing we do in life, each word, each cry, each act, calls
into being, perhaps very soon, perhaps very late, a repetition?"

"From the same person?"

"Or from some other person."

"What a curious idea. You think we cannot ever do anything without
finding an imitator! I don't like to imagine it. I don't fancy that
there can ever, in the history of the world, be an exact repetition of
our feeling, our doing, to-night."

"Yet, there may be. Who knows?"

"I do. Instinct tells me there never can. There has never been, never
will be, any woman with a heart just like mine, given to a man just in
the same way as mine is given to you. Why should you think such a
hateful thing?"

"I don't know. It was only an idea that occurred to me."

And again he glanced towards the lighted windows.

"The world is very full of echoes," he went on; "our troubles are
repeated."

"But not our joys, our deepest joys. No, no, never!"

"There have always been lovers, and they all act in much the same way!"

"Hateful! Ah! why can't we invent some new mode of expression for
ourselves--you and I?"

"Because we are human beings, and one network of tangled limitations."

"You make me cry with anger," she said.

And when he looked, he saw that there were tears shining in her eyes.

At that moment a ghastly sensation of compunction swept over him. What
had he done? A deep wrong, the deepest wrong man can do. He had made an
experiment, as a scientist may make an experiment. He had vivisected a
soul, but the soul was yet ignorant of the fact. When it knew, would it
die? But then he told himself he had to do it. For he loved
passionately, and was certain that he could only gain the heart he had
not yet completely won by gaining this heart that he had completely won.
He had made an experiment. If it failed! But it could not fail. All that
Clarice said, all that she thought, all that she desired, Betty said,
thought, desired. After the necessary interval the echo must follow the
voice. And he smiled to himself.

"Why do you smile like that?" Clarice asked.

"Because--because I thought I heard an echo," he replied. And then they
kissed again. He, with his eyes shut, forced his imagination to tell him
that the lips he pressed were the lips of Betty. She thought only of the
lips of love, that burn up all the recollections of the lonely years,
all the phantoms which dwell in the deserts through which women pass to
joy--or to despair.

The Austrian pianist was exhausted. Even his long hair could no longer
sustain his failing energies. He expired magnificently, the seventh
rhapsody of Liszt serving as his bier. Lady Betty came out into the
garden.

"How unmusical you two are," she said; "his playing was exquisite."

"We heard finer music here," Clarice answered, as she got up to go back
to the dahabeeyah--"did we not?"

She turned to Bellairs. He was looking at Lady Betty and did not hear.
Clarice's cheek flushed angrily.

"Come, Betty," she exclaimed. "Good-night, Mr Bellairs."

"Good-night, Mr Bellairs," echoed Lady Betty.

The two women moved away, and vanished down the narrow and dusty avenue
that leads to the bank of the Nile. Bellairs stood looking after them.
He was wondering why he loved Betty and did not love Clarice. It seemed
feeble to love an echo. Yet, the intonation of an echo is sometimes
exquisite in its trilling vagueness, its far-off, thrilling beauty. And
Bellairs fancied that if he once wakened Betty to passion he would free
her, in a moment, from her curious bondage, would give to her the soul
that Clarice must surely have crushed down and expelled, replacing it
with a replica of her own soul. And then he asked himself, being
analytically inclined that night, what he adored in Betty. Was it merely
her fresh young beauty? It could not be her nature; for that, at
present, was merely Clarice's, and he did not love the nature of
Clarice. Yet he felt it was something more than her beauty. When he had
made her love him he would know; for, when he had made her love him, he
would force her to be herself.

He watched the bats circling among the shadowy palms. How gentle the air
was. How sweet the stars looked. Bellairs thought of England that was so
far away. It seemed impossible that he could ever be in London again,
ever again assume a Piccadilly nature, and laugh at the folly of having
a romance. Yes, it seemed impossible. Nevertheless, in a fortnight he
must go. But he would take Betty's promise with him. He was resolved on
that. And then he left the silent garden to the bats, and was soon
between the mosquito curtains, dreaming.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days afterwards Clarice was prostrated with a nervous headache.
She could not bear to have any one in her cabin, and Lady Betty sat on
the deck of the _Queen Hatasoo_ quite inconsolable. Bellairs, arriving
to pay his usual afternoon call, found her there. Lord Braydon was out,
sailing in a flat-bottomed boat far up the river with Lady Braydon, so
Lady Betty was quite desolate. She told Bellairs so mournfully.

"And Clarice won't let me come near her," she exclaimed. "A step on the
floor, the creak of the cabin door as I come in, tortures her. She is
all nerves. I hope I shan't have her headache presently."

"Is it likely?"

"I often do. She seems to pass it on to me. I never had a headache until
I knew her. But, indeed, I never seemed to live, I never seemed to know
anything, be anything, until she came into my life."

"I wish I had known you before you knew her," Bellairs said.

"Why?"

"I don't know--perhaps to see if you were really so very different from
what you are now."

"I was--utterly."

"What were you like?"

"I can't remember--but I was utterly different."

As she ceased speaking, Bellairs glanced over the rail to the river
bank. Two blue-robed donkey boys stood there trying to attract his
attention, and pointing significantly to their gaily-bedizened donkeys.

"Shall we go for a ride?" he said to Lady Betty. "Just along the river
bank? Then we shall see Lord Braydon as he sails back. Mdlle. Leroux
won't miss you. Shall we go?"

Betty hesitated. But she could do the invalid no good by staying. So she
assented. Bellairs helped her to the bank and placed her in the smart
red saddle. He motioned the boys to keep well in the rear, and they
started at a quick, tripping walk. As they went, a white face appeared
at a cabin window, staring after them, the face of Clarice, who had with
difficulty lifted her throbbing head from the pillow. She watched the
donkeys diminishing till they were black shadows moving along against
the sky, then she began to cry weakly, but only because she was too ill
to be with them. Her gift of prophecy failed her at this critical
juncture of her life, and she had no sense of a coming disaster, as she
lay back on her berth, and gave herself up once more to pain.

That evening Lord Braydon asked Bellairs to dine on the dahabeeyah, and
he accepted the invitation. Clarice was still in durance, having
entirely failed to pass her headache on to Lady Betty. After dinner Lord
Braydon went into the saloon to write a letter to England, and Lady
Betty and Bellairs had the deck to themselves. He was resolved to put
his fate to the touch; for, during the donkey ride, he had discovered
the change in Betty which he had so eagerly desired, the change from
warm friendship to a different feeling. The girl had not acknowledged
it. Bellairs had not asked her to do so; but he meant to. Only the
thought of his treachery to the woman lying in the cabin below held him
back, just for a moment, and prompted him to talk lightly of indifferent
things. But that treachery had been a necessary manoeuvre in his
campaign of happiness. He strove to dismiss it from his mind as he leant
forward in his chair, and led Lady Betty to the subject that lay so near
to his heart.

"You love me?" she said presently.

"Yes--deeply. You are angry?"

"How can I be? No, no--and yet--"

"Yes?"

"And yet, when you told me, I felt sad."

Bellairs looked keenly vexed, and she hastened to add:--

"Not because I am--indifferent. No, no. I can't explain why the feeling
came. It was gone in a moment. And now--"

"Now you are happy?"

He caught her hand and she left it in his.

"Yes, very happy."

Bellairs bent over her and kissed her--as he lifted himself up a white
hand appeared on the rail of the companion that led from the lower to
the upper deck of the _Hatasoo_. Clarice wearily dragged herself up.
She was wrapped in a shawl and looked very ill. Betty ran to help her.

"I thought I must get a little air," she said feebly. "How d'you do, Mr
Bellairs?"

She sank down in a chair.

Bellairs felt like a man between two fires.

       *       *       *       *       *

Two days later Lord Braydon gave his consent to his daughter's
engagement with Bellairs, and Lady Betty ran to tell Clarice. She had
not previously said a word to her friend of what had passed between her
and Bellairs. He had begged her to keep silence until he had spoken to
Lord Braydon, and she had promised and had kept her promise. But now she
rushed into the saloon where Clarice was playing Chopin, and, throwing
her arms round her friend, told her the great news. The body of Clarice
became rigid in her arms.

"And the king has consented," Betty cried.

The king was her father.

"Clarice, Clarice, isn't it wonderful?"

"Wonderful! I thought so when you told me. But already I begin to doubt
if it is."

"To doubt, Clarice?"

"To doubt whether anything a man does is wonderful."

That was all Clarice said. Then she kissed Betty, and went on playing
Chopin feverishly, while Betty told, to the accompaniment of the music,
all that was in her heart.

"And," she said at last, "I love him, Clarice; I love him intensely. I
shall always love him."

Clarice played a final chord and got up.

Bellairs lunched on the dahabeeyah that day and Clarice met him as
usual. Her manner gave no sign of any mental disturbance. Perhaps it was
curiously calm. He wondered a little, but was too happy to wonder much.
Joy made him cruel, for nothing is so cruel as joy. Only he was glad
that Clarice had so much pride, for he thought now that in her pride lay
his safety. He no longer feared that she would condescend to a scene,
and he even thought that perhaps she did not feel so deeply as he had
supposed.

"After all," he said to himself exultantly, "there's no harm done. I
need not have been so conscience-stricken. What is a pretty speech and a
kiss to a woman who has lived, travelled over the world, read widely,
thought many things? Now, if I had treated Betty in such a way I should
be a blackguard. She could not have understood. She could only have
suffered. I will never hurt her--Betty!"

His nature was so full of her that it could no longer hold any thought
of Clarice. And for a little while, as Bellairs dived into Betty's
heart, he was astonished at the passion he found there, and
congratulated himself on having released her from bondage. Now, at
least, he was teaching her to be herself. He was killing the echo and
creating a voice, a beautiful, clear, radiant voice that would sing to
him, to him alone.

"Betty has a great deal in her," he said to Clarice once.

"Yes--a great deal. Who put it there, do you think?"

"Who? Why, nobody. Surely you would not say that all you yourself have
of--of strength, originality, courage, was put into you by some other
man or woman."

"No. I would not say that. But then--I am not Betty."

Bellairs felt irritated.

"Please don't run Betty down," he exclaimed hastily.

"I! I run down Betty! I don't think you understand what I feel about
Betty. She is the one perfect being I know. I worship her."

"I am sure you do," he said, mollified. "And you have done much for her,
perhaps too much."

"I cannot tell that--yet," Clarice answered. "Some day I may know
whether I have done very much, or very little."

"Some day--when?"

"Perhaps very soon."

Bellairs wondered what she meant, and wondered, too, why he had a sudden
sense of uneasiness.

It was a day or two after this conversation that a light cloud seemed to
float across his lover's happiness with Betty. He could not tell the
exact moment when it came, nor from what quarter it journeyed. But he
felt the obscuring of the sun and the lessening of the lovely warmth of
intimacy. He was chilled and alarmed, and at night, when he was alone
with Betty in the stern of the _Hatasoo_ bidding her good-bye, he could
not refrain from saying:--

"Betty, is anything the matter?"

"The matter, Jack?"

"Yes. Are you quite happy to-day? Quite as happy as you were yesterday?"

"I suppose so--I believe so."

But she did not speak with a perfect conviction, and Bellairs was more
gravely troubled.

"I am certain something is wrong," he persisted. "I have done something
that has offended you, or said something stupid. What is it? Do tell
me."

"I can't. There is nothing to tell. Really, there is not."

"You would tell me if there was?"

"Of course."

"And you love me as much as ever?"

"Oh, yes."

He looked into her eyes, asking them mutely to tell him the truth. And
he thought their expression was strangely cold. The light had surely
faded out of them. He kissed her silently and went forward. Clarice was
standing there looking at the rising moon.

"Good-night," he said, holding out his hand.

"How grave you look," she answered, not seeing the hand.

"The moonlight makes people look unnatural."

"It does not reach the deck yet."

"Good-night," he said again, and he went down the stairs.

She looked after him with a smile. When he had gone, she turned her head
and called.

"Betty!"

"Yes!"

"Come here and sit with me. Let us watch the moon. Don't talk. I want to
think--and to make you think--as I do."

The cloud which Bellairs had fancied he noticed did not dissolve in the
night. It was not drawn up mysteriously into the sun to fade in gold. On
the contrary, next day he could no longer pretend to himself that his
anxiety as a lover rendered him foolishly self-conscious, dangerously
observant of the merest trifles. There really was a change in Betty, and
a change which grew. He became seriously alarmed. Could it be possible
that the ardent passion which she had displayed in the first moments of
their engagement was already subsiding as cynics say passion subsides
after marriage? Such a supposition seemed ridiculous. The ardour which
has never fulfilled itself is not liable to cool. And Betty was a young
girl who had not known love before. If she tired of it after so short
an experience of its delights, she could be nothing less than a wholly
unnatural and distorted being. And she was strangely natural. Bellairs
rode out alone with her along the built-up brown roads into the desert,
and tried to interest her, but she was abstracted and seemed deep in
thought. Often she didn't hear what he was saying, and when she did hear
and replied, her answers were short and careless, and rather dismissed
than encouraged the subject to which they were applied. Bellairs, at
last, gave up attempting to talk, and from time to time stole a cautious
glance at her pretty face. He noticed that it wore a puzzled expression,
as if she were turning over something in her mind and could not come to
a conclusion about it. She did not look exactly sad, but merely grave
and distrait. At length he exclaimed, determined to rouse her into some
sort of comradeship:--

"You never caught that headache, did you?"

"Clarice's, you mean? No."

"Is it coming on now?"

"Oh, no. I feel perfectly well. What made you think it was?"

"You won't talk to me, and you look so preternaturally serious. I am
sure I have unwittingly offended you?"

"No, you haven't. You are just as you always are, better to me than I
deserve."

"You deserve the best man in the world."

"I already have the best woman."

"Mdlle. Leroux?"

"Yes; Clarice."

"You admire her very much."

"Of course. I would give anything to be like her."

Bellairs hesitated a moment. Then he said with a slight, uneasy laugh:--

"But you are wonderfully like her."

Betty looked surprised.

"I don't see how," she answered.

"No, because we never see ourselves. But when I first knew you both, I
was immensely struck by the curious resemblance between you, in mind, in
the things you said, in the things you did, the people you liked."

"We both liked you."

"Yes."

"It would have been strange if we had both loved you!" Betty said,
musingly.

Bellairs laughed again, and gave his horse a cut with the whip. "I only
wanted one to do that," he said, not quite truthfully. "And, thank God,
I have got my desire."

Betty did not answer.

"Haven't I?" he persisted.

"You know whether you have or not," she answered. "How beautiful the
sunset is going to be to-night. Look at the light over Karnak."

She pointed towards the temple with her whip. Bellairs felt a crawling
despair that numbed him What did it all mean? Was he torturing himself
foolishly, or was this instinct which gnawed at his heart a thing to be
reckoned with? When he left Betty at the dahabeeyah, he walked slowly,
in the gathering shadows, along the path which skirts the dingy temple
of Luxor. This change in Betty was simply inexplicable. In no way could
he account for it. She had not the definite, angry coldness of a girl
who had made a dreadful mistake and hated the man who had led her to
make it. No; she seemed rather in a state of mental transition. She was
setting foot on some bridge, which, Bellairs felt, led away from the
shore on which she had been standing with him. Was her first transport
of love and joy a pretence? He could not believe so. He knew it was
genuine. That was the puzzle which he could not put together. And then
he tried to comfort himself by thinking deliberately of the many moods
that make the feminine mind so full of April weather, of how they come
and pass and are dead. All men had suffered from them, especially all
lovers. He could not expect to be exempt--only, till now, Betty had
seemed so utterly free from moods, so steadily frank, eager, charming,
responsive. Bellairs finally argued himself into a condition of despair,
during which he came to a resolve of despair. He silently decided to
seek a quiet interview with Clarice, and ask her what was the matter
with Betty. After all, there was no reason why he should not take this
step. Clarice had evidently not cared deeply for him. Otherwise, she
would not have accepted his desertion with such truly agreeable
fortitude. Theirs had been a passing flirtation--nothing more. And,
indeed, their intimacy gave him the right to consult her, while her
close knowledge of Betty must render her an infallible judge of any
reasons which there might be to render the latter's conduct
intelligible.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bellairs did not have to wait long before he put his resolve into
practice. That evening Betty, who had become more and more abstracted
and silent, got up soon after dinner, and said she was tired, and was
going to bed. Bellairs tried to get a moment with her alone, but she
frustrated the attempt by holding out her hand to him in public and
markedly bidding him good-night before Lord and Lady Braydon. When she
had disappeared, Bellairs sought Clarice, who was downstairs in the
saloon writing letters. Clarice looked up from the blotting-pad as he
entered.

"I want to talk to you," he exclaimed abruptly.

"I am writing letters."

"Do give me a few minutes."

"Very well," she said, pushing her paper away and laying down her pen.
"What is it?"

"That's what I want to ask you. What has come over Betty? Is she ill?"

"Betty! Has anything come over her?"

Bellairs tapped his fingers impatiently on the table.

"Don't tell me you haven't noticed the change," he said. "Forgive me for
saying that I couldn't believe it if you did."

"In that case I won't trouble myself to say it."

"Ah--you have! Then what's the matter? Tell me."

"Hush, don't speak so loud or the sailors will hear you, and Abdul
understands English. I did not say I knew the reason of this change."

"You must. You are Betty's other self, or rather she is--was--yours."

"Was! Do you mean that she is not now?"

"Remember, she loves me."

"Oh, and that makes a difference?"

"Surely!"

"You have observed it?"

Bellairs hesitated. He scarcely knew whether to reply in the affirmative
or the negative. He resolved upon a compromise.

"There has hardly been time yet," he said; "naturally, I expect that
Betty will place me before every one else."

Mdlle. Leroux's eyes flashed under the hanging lamp.

"What we expect is not always what we get," she said significantly.

Bellairs flushed. He understood that she was alluding to his treatment
of her, but he preferred to ignore it, and went on:--

"Is Betty ill to-night?"

"Not at all."

"Then what on earth is the matter? I ask you for a plain answer. I think
I deserve so much."

"Men are always so deserving," she said with bitterness.

"And women are always so exacting," he retorted. "But please answer my
question."

"I will first ask you another. If you reply frankly to me, I will reply
frankly to you."

She leaned her elbows on the table, supporting her face on the palms of
her upturned hands, and looked into his eyes.

"Ask me," said Bellairs eagerly; "I'll do anything if you'll only
explain Betty to me."

"Why did you try to make me love you? Why did you make love to me?"

Bellairs pushed back his chair and there was an awkward silence.
Clarice's question was very unexpected and very difficult to answer.

"Well?" she said, still with her eyes on his.

"Is it any good our discussing this?" he replied at length. "It meant
nothing to you. It is over."

"How do you know it meant nothing to me?"

"You have shown that by your conduct. You care nothing. I am indifferent
to you."

"No, not indifferent, not at all."

"What? You can't mean--no, it is absurd!"

"What is absurd?"

"You can't--you don't mean that you really have any feeling for me?"

"I do mean it!"

Bellairs felt very uncomfortable. He scarcely knew what to do or say. He
fidgeted on his chair almost like a boy caught in a dishonest act.

"We had really better not talk about it," he said.

"Very well." Clarice reached out her hand for her pen and drew the
blotting-pad towards her.

"But Betty?" said Bellairs uneasily.

"You have not answered my question. I shall not answer yours." She
dipped her pen in the ink and prepared to go on with her letter.
Bellairs grew desperate.

"Look here," he said; "you must tell me the reason of this change in
Betty. Now I know you don't care for me, you don't really love me."

"No, I don't love you," she said quickly.

"Well, then, since you say that, I will answer your question. I tried to
win your heart because I wanted to win Betty's!"

"What do you mean?"

"That Betty is practically you--or was, your echo, in word, deed,
thought. Her mind, her heart, followed yours in everything. I loved her,
and I knew that if I made you like me very much she must follow you in
that feeling as in others. Since you don't love me, I can dare to tell
you this."

Clarice sat silent.

"Are you angry?" he asked.

"Go on," she said.

"That's all." Again a silence.

"It was your fault in a way," Bellairs said awkwardly. "You made Betty
your other self. Why did you not let her alone?"

"Can a strong nature help impressing itself on others?"

"Oh, I don't know. I'm no psychologist. But--you must let Betty alone
now," he said.

"Suppose I can't. Suppose this sympathy between us has got beyond my
control?"

"I shall release Betty from this bondage to you," Bellairs said, "my
love will--"

"You! Your love!" Clarice said. And she burst into a laugh.

Bellairs suddenly leaned forward across the table.

"I believe you hate me," he exclaimed.

She, on her part, leaned forward till her face was near his.

"You're right," she whispered; "I do hate you. Now you know what's the
matter with Betty."

For a moment Bellairs did not understand.

"Now--I know--" he repeated. "I don't--Ah!" Comprehension flashed upon
him.

"You devil," he said--"you she-devil! Curse--curse you!" Clarice laughed
again. Bellairs sprang up.

"No, no, I won't believe it," he cried. "I can't. The thing's
impossible."

"Is it? The pendulum of my heart has swung back from love to hate.
Betty's is following."

"No, no!"

"Wait, and you will see. Already she seems to care less for you. You
yourself have remarked it."

"I have not," he said with violence.

"To-morrow she will care less, and so less--less--till she too--hates
you."

"Never!"

"Only wait--and you will know. And now, good-night. I must really write
my letter. It is to my mother, and must go by to-morrow's mail."

She resumed her writing quietly. Bellairs watched her for a moment. Then
he strode out of the room, across the gangway, up the bank.

How dark the night was.

       *       *       *       *       *

The explanation of Clarice struck Bellairs with a benumbing force. In
vain he argued to himself that it was not the true one, that no heart
could follow another as she said Betty's followed hers, that no nature
could merely for ever echo another's. Some furtive despair lurking in
his soul whispered that she had spoken the truth. An appalling sense of
utter impotence seized him, as it seizes a man who fights with a shadow.
But he resolved to fight. His whole life's happiness hung on the issue.

On the following day he forced himself to be cheerful, gay, talkative.
He went early to the dahabeeyah, and proposed to Lord Braydon a picnic
to Thebes. Lord Braydon assented. A hamper was packed. The boat was
ordered. The little party assembled on the deck of the _Hatasoo_ for the
start; Lady Braydon, in a wide hat and sweeping grey veil, Clarice with
her big white parasol lined with pale green, Lord Braydon in his helmet,
his eyes protected by enormous spectacles. But where was Betty? Abdul,
the dragoman, went to tell her that they were going. She came, without
her hat, or gloves, holding a palm leaf fan in her hand.

"I am not coming," she said.

Clarice glanced at Bellairs. He pressed his lips together and felt that
he was turning white underneath the tan the Egyptian sun rays had
painted on his cheeks. Lady Braydon protested.

"What's the matter, Betty?" she said. "The donkeys are ordered and
waiting for us on the opposite bank. Why aren't you coming?"

"I have got a headache. I'm afraid of the sun to-day." All persuasion
was useless. They had to set out without her. Bellairs was bitterly
angry, bitterly afraid. He could scarcely make the necessary effort to
be polite and talkative, but Lord and Lady Braydon readily excused his
gloom, understanding his disappointment, and Clarice no longer desired
his conversation. That night he did not see Betty. She was confined to
her cabin and would see no one but Clarice. On the following day
Bellairs went very early to the dahabeeyah and asked for her. Abdul took
his message, and, after an interval, returned to him with the following
note:--

   "DEAR MR BELLAIRS,--I am very sorry I cannot see you this
   morning, but I am still very unwell. I think the mental agony
   I have been and am undergoing accounts for my condition. I
   must tell you the truth. I cannot marry you. I mistook my
   feeling for you. I honestly thought it love. I find it is only
   friendship. Can you ever forgive me the pain I am causing you?
   I cannot forgive myself. But I should do you a much greater
   wrong by marrying you than by giving you up. I have told my
   father and mother. See them if you like. We sail to-morrow
   morning for Assouan.

                                                    "BETTY."

Bellairs, crumpling this note in his hand, would have burst forth into a
passion of useless rage and despair, but Abdul's lustrous eyes were
fixed upon him. Abdul's dignified form calmly waited his pleasure.

"Where is Lord Braydon?" said Bellairs, "I must see him."

"His lordship is on the second deck, sir."

"Take me to him."

The interview that followed only increased the despair of Bellairs. Lord
Braydon was most sympathetic, most courteously sorry, but he said that
his daughter's decision was absolutely irrevocable, and he could not
attempt to coerce her in such an important matter.

"At any rate, I must see her before you sail," said Bellairs at last. "I
think she owes me at least that one last debt."

"I think so too," said Lord Braydon. "Come at six. I will undertake that
you shall see her."

How Bellairs spent the intervening hours he could never remember. He did
not go back to the hotel; he must have wandered all day along the river
bank. Yet he felt neither the heat, nor any fatigue, nor any hunger. At
six o'clock he reached the dahabeeyah. Lady Betty was sitting alone on
the deck. She looked very pale and grave.

"My father and mother and Clarice have gone up to the hotel," she said.
"That Austrian is playing again this evening."

"Is he?" Bellairs answered. He sat down beside her and tried to take her
hand. But she would not let him.

"No," she said. "No, it's no use. I have made a ghastly mistake, but I
will not make another. Oh, forgive me, do forgive me!"

"How can I? If you will not try to love me my life is ruined."

"Don't say that. It's no use to try to love. You know that. We must just
let ourselves alone. Love comes, or hate, just as God wills it. We can
only accept our fate."

"As God wills," Bellairs said passionately; "why do you say that, when
you know it is not true?"

"Not true--Mr Bellairs!"

"Yes. If you echoed the will of God how could I blame you? We must all
do that--at least, when we are good. And those of us who are wicked I
suppose echo the Devil. But you--what do you echo?"

"I--I echo no one. I don't understand you."

"But you shall, before it is too late. Betty, be yourself. Emancipate
your soul. You are the echo of that woman, of Clarice. Don't you see it?
Don't you know it? You are her echo--and she hates me!"

Betty drew back from him--she was evidently alarmed.

"Are you mad?" she said. "Why do you say such things to me? Clarice and
I love each other, it is true, but our real natures are totally
different. She does not hate you, nor do I. She has never said one word
against you to me. She has always told me how much she liked you. What
are you saying?"

"The truth!"

"I--her echo! Why, then--then if that were the case she must have loved
you, or thought she loved you. Do you dare to tell me that?"

"I do not say that," Bellairs answered hopelessly.

"Of course not. The idea is so absurd. Clarice--oh! how can you talk
like this? And if I am only an echo, as you call it, how can you say you
care for me, care for another woman's shadow? You do not love me."

"I do--with all my heart."

"And yet you say I am nothing, that I have not even a heart of my own,
that I love or hate at the will of another."

"Forgive me, forgive me! I don't know what I say. I only know I love
you."

Her face softened.

"And you deserve to be loved," she said; "but I--it is so horrible--I
cannot!"

Suddenly Bellairs caught her in his arms.

"You shall," he exclaimed, "you shall. I will make you." But she pushed
him back with a strange strength, and her face hardened till he scarcely
recognised it.

"Don't do that--don't touch me--or you'll make me hate you," she said
vehemently.

Bellairs let her go. At that moment there was a step on the deck.
Clarice appeared. She did not seem to notice that anything was wrong.
She smiled.

"Isn't it sad, Mr Bellairs," she said, "we sail to-morrow. I love Luxor.
I can't bear to leave it."

Bellairs suddenly turned and hurried away. He could no longer trust
himself. There was blood before his eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was dawn. The Nile was smooth as a river of oil. Light mists rolled
upwards gently, discovering the rosy flanks of the Libyan mountains to
the sun. The sky began to glimmer with a dancing golden heat. On the
brown bank where the boats lie in the shadow a man stood alone. His
hands were tightly clenched. His lips worked silently. His eyes were
fixed in a stare. And away in the distance up river, a tiny trail of
smoke floated towards Luxor. It came from a steam tug that drew a
following dahabeeyah.

The _Queen Hatasoo_ was on her voyage to Assouan.



THE FACE OF THE MONK


I

"No, it will not hurt him to see you," the doctor said to me; "and I
have no doubt he will recognise you. He is the quietest patient I have
ever had under my care--gentle, kind, agreeable, perfect in conduct, and
yet quite mad. You know him well?"

"He was my dearest friend," I said. "Before I went out to America three
years ago we were inseparable. Doctor, I cannot believe that he is mad,
he--Hubert Blair--one of the cleverest young writers in London, so
brilliant, so acute! Wild, if you like, a libertine perhaps, a strange
mixture of the intellectual and the sensual--but mad! I can't believe
it!"

"Not when I tell you that he was brought to me suffering from acute
religious mania?"

"Religious! Hubert Blair!"

"Yes. He tried to destroy himself, declaring that he was unfit to live,
that he was a curse to some person unknown. He protested that each deed
of his affected this unknown person, that his sins were counted as the
sins of another, and that this other had haunted him--would haunt him
for ever."

The doctor's words troubled me.

"Take me to him," I said at last. "Leave us together."

It was a strange, sad moment when I entered the room in which Hubert was
sitting. I was painfully agitated. He knew me, and greeted me warmly. I
sat down opposite to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a long silence. Hubert looked away into the fire. He saw, I
think, traced in scarlet flames, the scenes he was going to describe to
me; and I, gazing at him, wondered of what nature the change in my
friend might be. That he had changed since we were together three years
ago was evident, yet he did not look mad. His dark, clean-shaven young
face was still passionate. The brown eyes were still lit with a certain
devouring eagerness. The mouth had not lost its mingled sweetness and
sensuality. But Hubert was curiously transformed. There was a dignity,
almost an elevation, in his manner. His former gaiety had vanished. I
knew, without words, that my friend was another man--very far away from
me now. Yet once we had lived together as chums, and had no secrets the
one from the other.

At last Hubert looked up and spoke.

"I see you are wondering about me," he said.

"Yes."

"I have altered, of course--completely altered."

"Yes," I said, awkwardly enough. "Why is that?"

I longed to probe this madness of his that I might convince myself of
it, otherwise Hubert's situation must for ever appal me.

He answered quietly, "I will tell you--nobody else knows--and even you
may--"

He hesitated, then he said:--

"No, you will believe it."

"Yes, if you tell me it is true."

"It is absolutely true.

"Bernard, you know what I was when you left England for America--gay,
frivolous in my pleasures, although earnest when I was working. You know
how I lived to sound the depths of sensation, how I loved to stretch all
my mental and physical capacities to the snapping-point, how I shrank
from no sin that could add one jot or tittle to my knowledge of the mind
of any man or woman who interested me. My life seemed a full life then.
I moved in the midst of a thousand intrigues. I strung beads of all
emotions upon my rosary, and told them until at times my health gave
way. You remember my recurring periods of extraordinary and horrible
mental depression--when life was a demon to me, and all my success in
literature less than nothing; when I fancied myself hated, and could
believe I heard phantom voices abusing me. Then those fits passed away,
and once more I lived as ardently as ever, the most persistent worker,
and the most persistent excitement-seeker in London.

"Well, after you went away I continued my career. As you know, my
success increased. Through many sins I had succeeded in diving very deep
into human hearts of men and women. Often I led people deliberately away
from innocence in order that I might observe the gradual transformation
of their natures. Often I spurred them on to follies that I might see
the effect our deeds have upon our faces--the seal our actions set upon
our souls. I was utterly unscrupulous, and yet I thought myself
good-hearted. You remember that my servants always loved me, that I
attracted people. I can say this to you. For some time my usual course
was not stayed. Then--I recollect it was in the middle of the London
season--one of my horrible fits of unreasonable melancholy swept over
me. It stunned my soul like a heavy blow. It numbed me. I could not go
about. I could not bear to see anybody. I could only shut myself up and
try to reason myself back into my usual gaiety and excitement. My
writing was put aside. My piano was locked. I tried to read, but even
that solace was denied to me. My attention was utterly self-centred,
riveted upon my own condition.

"Why, I said to myself, am I the victim of this despair, this despair
without a cause? What is this oppression which weighs me down without
reason? It attacks me abruptly, as if it were sent to me by some power,
shot at me like an arrow by an enemy hidden in the dark. I am well--I am
gay. Life is beautiful and wonderful to me. All that I do interests me.
My soul is full of vitality. I know that I have troops of friends, that
I am loved and thought of by many people. And then suddenly the arrow
strikes me. My soul is wounded and sickens to death. Night falls over
me, night so sinister that I shudder when its twilight comes. All my
senses faint within me. Life is at once a hag, weary, degraded, with
tears on her cheeks and despair in her hollow eyes. I feel that I am
deserted, that my friends despise me, that the world hates me, that I am
less than all other men--less in powers, less in attraction--that I am
the most crawling, the most grovelling of all the human species, and
that there is no one who does not know it. Yet the doctors say I am not
physically ill, and I know that I am not mad. Whence does this awful
misery, this unmeaning, causeless horror of life and of myself come? Why
am I thus afflicted?

"Of course I could find no answer to all these old questions, which I
had asked many times before. But this time, Bernard, my depression was
more lasting, more overwhelming than usual. I grew terribly afraid of
it. I thought I might be driven to suicide. One day a crisis seemed to
come. I dared no longer remain alone, so I put on my hat and coat, took
my stick, and hurried out, without any definite intention. I walked
along Piccadilly, avoiding the glances of those whom I met. I fancied
they could all read the agony, the degradation of my soul. I turned into
Bond Street, and suddenly I felt a strong inclination to stop before a
certain door. I obeyed the impulse, and my eyes fell on a brass plate,
upon which was engraved these words:--

       VANE.
    Clairvoyant.
  11 till 4 daily.

"I remember I read them several times over, and even repeated them in a
whisper to myself. Why? I don't know. Then I turned away, and was about
to resume my walk. But I could not. Again I stopped and read the legend
on the brass plate. On the right-hand side of the door was an electric
bell. I put my finger on it and pressed the button inwards. The door
opened, and I walked, like a man in a dream, I think, up a flight of
narrow stairs. At the top of them was a second door, at which a
maidservant was standing.

"'You want to see Mr Vane, sir?'

"'Yes. Can I?'

"'If you will come in, sir, I will see.'

"She showed me into a commonplace, barely-furnished little room, and,
after a short period of waiting, summoned me to another, in which stood
a tall, dark youth, dressed in a gown rather like a college gown. He
bowed to me, and I silently returned the salutation. The servant left
us. Then he said:--

"'You wish me to exert my powers for you?'

"'Yes.'

"'Will you sit here?'

"He motioned me to a seat beside a small round table, sat down opposite
to me, and took my hand. After examining it through a glass, and telling
my character fairly correctly by the lines in it, he laid the glass down
and regarded me narrowly.

"'You suffer terribly from depression,' he said.

"'That is true.'

"He continued to gaze upon me more and more fixedly. At length he
said:--

"'Do you know that everybody has a companion?'

"'How--a companion?'

"'Somebody incessantly with them, somebody they cannot see.'

"'You believe in the theory of guardian angels?'

"'I do not say these companions are always guardian angels. I see your
companion now, as I look at you. His face is by your shoulder.'

"I started, and glanced hastily round; but, of course, could see
nothing.

"'Shall I describe him?'

"'Yes,' I said.

"'His face is dark, like yours; shaven, like yours. He has brown eyes,
just as brown as yours are. His mouth and his chin are firm and small,
as firm and small as yours.'

"'He must be very like me.'

"'He is. But there is a difference between you.'

"'What is it?'

"'His hair is cut more closely than yours, and part of it is shaved
off.'

"'He is a priest, then?'

"'He wears a cowl. He is a monk.'

"'A monk! But why does he come to me?'

"'I should say that he cannot help it, that he is your spirit in some
former state. Yes'--and he stared at me till his eyes almost mesmerised
me--'you must have been a monk once.'

"'I--a monk! Impossible! Even if I have lived on earth before, it could
never have been as a monk.'

"'How do you know that?'

"'Because I am utterly without superstitions, utterly free from any
lingering desire for an ascetic life. That existence of silence, of
ignorance, of perpetual prayer, can never have been mine.'

"'You cannot tell,' was all his answer.


II

"When I left Bond Street that afternoon I was full of disbelief.
However, I had paid my half-guinea and escaped from my own core of
misery for a quarter of an hour. That was something. I didn't regret my
visit to this man Vane, whom I regarded as an agreeable charlatan. For a
moment he had interested me. For a moment he had helped me to forget my
useless wretchedness. I ought to have been grateful to him. And, as
always, my soul regained its composure at last. One morning I awoke and
said to myself that I was happy. Why? I did not know. But I got up. I
was able to write once more. I was able to play. I felt that I had
friends who loved me and a career before me. I could again look people
in the face without fear. I could even feel a certain delightful conceit
of mind and body. Bernard, I was myself. So I thought, so I knew. And
yet, as days went by, I caught myself often thinking of this invisible,
tonsured, and cowled companion of mine, whom Vane had seen, whom I did
not see. Was he indeed with me? And, if so, had he thoughts, had he the
holy thoughts of a spirit that has renounced the world and all fleshly
things? Did he still keep that cloistered nature which is at home with
silence, which aspires, and prays, and lives for possible eternity,
instead of for certain time? Did he still hold desolate vigils? Did he
still scourge himself along the thorny paths of faith? And, if he did,
how must he regard me?

"I remember one night especially how this last thought was with me in a
dreary house, where I sinned, and where I dissected a heart.

"And I trembled as if an eye was upon me. And I went home.

"You will say that my imagination is keen, and that I gave way to it.
But wait and hear the end.

"This definite act of mine--this, my first conscious renunciation--did
not tend, as you might suppose, to the peace of my mind. On the
contrary, I found myself angry, perturbed, as I analysed the cause of my
warfare with self. I have naturally a supreme hatred of all control.
Liberty is my fetish. And now I had offered a sacrifice to a prisoning
unselfishness, to a false god that binds and gags its devotees. I was
angry, and I violently resumed my former course. But now I began to be
ceaselessly companioned by uneasiness, by a furtive cowardice that was
desolating. I felt that I was watched, and by some one who suffered when
I sinned, who shrank and shuddered when I followed where my desires led.

"It was the monk.

"Soon I gave to him a most definite personality. I endowed him with a
mind and with moods. I imagined not only a heart for him, but a voice,
deep with a certain ecclesiastical beauty, austere, with a note more apt
for denunciation than for praise. His face was my own face, but with an
expression not mine, elevated, almost fanatical, yet nobly beautiful;
praying eyes--and mine were only observant; praying lips--and mine were
but sensitively sensual. And he was haggard with abstinence, while
I--was I not often haggard with indulgence? Yes, his face was mine, and
not mine. It seemed the face of a great saint who might have been a
great sinner. Bernard, that is the most attractive face in all the
world. Accustoming myself thus to a thought-companion, I at length--for
we men are so inevitably materialistic--embodied him, gave to him hands,
feet, a figure, all--as before, mine, yet not mine, a sort of saintly
replica of my sinfulness. For do not hands, feet, figure cry our deeds
as the watchman cries the hour in the night?

"So, I had the man. There he stood in my vision as you are now.

"Yes, he was there; but only when I sinned.

"When I worked and yielded myself up to the clear assertion of my
intellect, when I fought to give out the thoughts that lingered like
reluctant fish far down in the deep pools of my mind, when I wrestled
for beauty of diction and for nameless graces of expression, when I was
the author, I could not see him.

"But when I was the man, and lived the fables that I was afterwards to
write, then he was with me. And his face was as the face of one who is
wasted with grey grief.

"He came to me when I sinned, as if by my sins I did him grave injury.
And, allowing my imagination to range wildly, as you will say, I grew
gradually to feel as if each sin did indeed strike a grievous blow upon
his holy nature.

"This troubled me at last. I found myself continually brooding over the
strange idea. I was aware that if my friends could know I entertained
it, they would think me mad. And yet I often fancied that thought moved
me in the direction of a sanity more perfect, more desirable than my
sanity of self-indulgence. Sometimes even I said to myself that I would
reorganise my life, that I would be different from what I had been. And
then, again, I laughed at my folly of the imagination, and cursed that
clairvoyant of Bond Street, who made a living by trading upon the latent
imbecility of human nature. Yet, the desire of change, of
soul-transformation, came and lingered, and the vision of the monk's
worn young face was often with me. And whenever, in my waking dreams, I
looked upon it, I felt that a time might come when I could pray and weep
for the wild catalogue of my many sins.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Bernard, at last the day came when I left England. I had long wished to
travel. I had grown tired of the hum of literary cliques, and the jargon
of that deadly parasite called 'modernity.' Praise fainted, and lay like
a corpse before my mind. I was sick of gaiety. It seemed to me that
London was stifling my powers, narrowing my outlook, barring out real
life from me with its moods and its fashions, and its idols of the hour,
and its heroes of a day, who are the traitors of the day's night.

"So I went away.

"And now I come to the part of my story that you may find it hard to
believe. Yet it is true.

"One day, in my wanderings, I came to a monastery. I remember the day
well. It was an afternoon of early winter, and I was _en route_ to a
warm climate. But to gain my climate, and snatch a vivid contrast such
as I love, I toiled over a gaunt and dreary pass, presided over by
heavy, beetling-browed mountains. I rode upon a mule, attended only by
my manservant and by a taciturn guide who led a baggage-mule. Slowly we
wound, by thin paths, among the desolate crags, which sprang to sight in
crowds at each turn of the way, pressing upon us, like dead faces of
Nature, the corpses of things we call inanimate, but which had surely
once lived. For the earth is alive, and gives life. But these mountains
were now utterly dead. These grey, petrified countenances of the hills
subdued my soul. The pattering shuffle of the mules woke an occasional
echo, and even an echo I hated. For the environing silence was immense,
and I wished to steep myself in it. As we still ascended, in the waste
winter afternoon, towards the hour of twilight, snow--the first snow of
the season--began to fall. I watched the white vision of the flakes
against the grey vision of the crags, and I thought that this path,
which I had chosen as my road to Summer, was like the path by which holy
men slowly gain Paradise, treading difficult ways through life that they
may attain at last those eternal roses which bloom beyond the granite
and the snows. Up and up I rode, into the clouds and the night, into the
veil of the world, into the icy winds of the heights. An eagle screamed
above my head, poised like a black shadow in the opaque gloom. That
flying life was the only life in this waste.

"And then my mule, edging ever to the precipice as a man to his fate,
sidled round a promontory of rock and set its feet in snow. For we had
passed the snow-line. And upon the snow lay thin spears of yellow light.
They streamed from the lattices of the monastery which crowns the very
summit of the pass.


III

"At this monastery I was to spend the night. The good monks entertain
all travellers, and in summer-time their hospitalities are lavishly
exercised. But in winter, wanderers are few, and these holy men are left
almost undisturbed in their meditative solitudes. My mule paused upon a
rocky plateau before the door of the narrow grey building. The guide
struck upon the heavy wood. After a while we were admitted by a robed
figure, who greeted us kindly and made us welcome. Within, the place was
bare and poor enough, but scrupulously clean. I was led through long,
broad, and bitterly cold corridors to a big chamber in which I was to
pass the night. Here were ranged in a row four large beds with white
curtains. I occupied one bed, my servant another. The rest were
untenanted. The walls were lined with light wood. The wooden floor was
uncarpeted. I threw open the narrow window. Dimly I could see a mountain
of rocks, on which snow lay in patches, towering up into the clouds in
front of me. And to the left there was a glimmer of water. On the
morrow, by that water, I should ride down into the land of flowers to
which I was bound. Till then I would allow my imagination to luxuriate
in the bleak romance of this wild home of prayer. The pathos of the
night, shivering in the snow, and of this brotherhood of aspiring souls,
detached from the excitement of the world for ever, seeking restlessly
their final salvation day by day, night by night, in clouds of mountain
vapour and sanctified incense, entered into my soul. And I thought of
that imagined companion of mine. If he were with me now, surely he would
feel that he had led me to his home at length. Surely he would secretly
long to remain here.

"I smiled, as I said to myself--'Monk, to-morrow, if, indeed, you are
fated to be my eternal attendant, you must come with me from this cold
station of the cross down into the sunshine, where the blood of men is
hot, where passions sing among the vineyards, where the battle is not of
souls but of flowers. To-morrow you must come with me. But to-night be
at peace!'

"And I smiled to myself again as I fancied that my visionary companion
was glad.

"Then I went down into the refectory.

"That night, before I retired to my room of the four beds, I asked if I
might go into the chapel of the monastery. My request was granted. I
shall never forget the curious sensation which overtook me as my guide
led me down some steps past a dim, little, old, painted window set in
the wall, to the chapel. That there should be a church here, that the
deep tones of an organ should ever sound among these rocks and clouds,
that the Host should be elevated and the censer swung, and litanies and
masses be chanted amid these everlasting snows, all this was wonderful
and quickening to me. When we reached the chapel, I begged my kind guide
to leave me for a while. I longed to meditate alone. He left me, and
instinctively I sank down upon my knees.

"I could just hear the keening of the wind outside. A dim light
glimmered near the altar, and in one of the oaken stalls I saw a bent
form praying. I knelt a long time. I did not pray. At first I scarcely
thought definitely. Only, I received into my heart the strange,
indelible impression of this wonderful place; and, as I knelt, my eyes
were ever upon that dark praying figure near to me. By degrees I
imagined that a wave of sympathy flowed from it to me, that in this
monk's devotions my name was not forgotten.

"'What absurd tricks our imaginations can play us!' you will say.

"I grew to believe that he prayed for me, there, under the dim light
from the tall tapers.

"What blessing did he ask on me? I could not tell; but I longed that his
prayer might be granted.

"And then, Bernard, at last he rose. He lifted his face from his hands
and stood up. Something in his figure seemed so strangely familiar to
me, so strangely that, on a sudden, I longed, I craved to see his face.

"He seemed about to retreat through a side door near to the altar; then
he paused, appeared to hesitate, then came down the chapel towards me.
As he drew near to me--I scarcely knew why--but I hid my face deep in my
hands, with a dreadful sense of overwhelming guilt which dyed my cheeks
with blood. I shrank--I cowered. I trembled and was afraid. Then I felt
a gentle touch on my shoulder. I looked up into the face of the monk.

"Bernard, it was the face of my invisible companion--it was my own
face.

"The monk looked down into my eyes searchingly. He recoiled.

"'_Mon démon!_' he whispered in French. '_Mon démon!_'

"For a moment he stood still, like one appalled. Then he turned and
abruptly quitted the chapel.

"I started up to follow him, but something held me back. I let him go,
and I listened to hear if his tread sounded upon the chapel floor as a
human footstep, if his robe rustled as he went.

"Yes. Then he was, indeed, a living man, and it was a human voice which
had reached my ears, not a voice of imagination. He was a living man,
this double of my body, this antagonist of my soul, this being who
called me demon, who fled from me, who, doubtless, hated me. He was a
living man.

"I could not sleep that night. This encounter troubled me. I felt that
it had a meaning for me which I must discover, that it was not chance
which had led me to take this cold road to the sunshine. Something had
bound me with an invisible thread, and led me up here into the clouds,
where already I--or the likeness of me--dwelt, perhaps had been dwelling
for many years. I had looked upon my living wraith, and my living wraith
had called me demon.

"How could I sleep?

"Very early I got up. The dawn was bitterly cold, but the snow had
ceased, though a coating of ice covered the little lake. How delicate
was the dawn here! The gathering, growing light fell upon the rocks,
upon the snow, upon the ice of the lake, upon the slate walls of the
monastery. And upon each it lay with a pretty purity, a thin refinement,
an austerity such as I had never seen before. So, even Nature, it
seemed, was purged by the continual prayers of these holy men. She, too,
like men, has her lusts, and her hot passions, and her wrath of warfare.
She, too, like men, can be edified and tended into grace. Nature among
these heights was a virgin, not a wanton, a fit companion for those who
are dedicated to virginity.

"I dressed by the window, and went out to see the entrance of the
morning. There was nobody about. I had to find my own way. But when I
had gained the refectory, I saw a monk standing by the door.

"It was my wraith waiting for me.

"Silently he went before me to the great door of the building. He opened
it, and we stepped out upon the rocky plateau on which the snow lay
thickly. He closed the door behind us, and motioned me to attend him
among the rocks till we were out of sight of the monastery. Then he
stopped, and we faced one another, still without a word, the grey light
of the wintry dawn clothing us so wearily, so plaintively.

"We gazed at each other, dark face to dark face, brown eyes to brown
eyes. The monk's pale hands, my hands, were clenched. The monk's strong
lips, my lips, were set. The two souls looked upon each other, there, in
the dawn.

"And then at last he spoke in French, and with the beautiful voice I
knew.

"'Whence have you come?' he said.

"'From England, father.'

"'From England? Then you live! you live. You are a man, as I am! And I
have believed you to be a spirit, some strange spirit of myself, lost to
my control, interrupting my prayers with your cries, interrupting my
sleep with your desires. You are a man like myself?'

"He stretched out his hand and touched mine.

"'Yes; it is indeed so,' he murmured.

"'And you,' I said in my turn, 'are no spirit. Yet, I, too, believed you
to be a wraith of myself, interrupting my sins with your sorrow,
interrupting my desires with your prayers. I have seen you. I have
imagined you. And now I find you live. What does it mean? For we are as
one and yet not as one.'

"'We are as two halves of a strangely-mingled whole,' he answered. 'Do
you know what you have done to me?'

"'No, father.'

"'Listen,' he said. 'When a boy I dedicated myself to God. Early, early
I dedicated myself, so that I might never know sin. For I had heard
that the charm of sin is so great and so terrible that, once it is
known, once it is felt, it can never be forgotten. And so it can make
the holiest life hideous with its memories. It can intrude into the very
sanctuary like a ghost, and murmur its music with the midnight mass.
Even at the elevation of the Host will it be present, and stir the heart
of the officiator to longing so keen that it is like the Agony of the
Garden, the Agony of Christ. There are monks here who weep because they
dare not sin, who rage secretly like beasts--because they will not sin.'

"He paused. The grey light grew over the mountains.

"'Knowing this, I resolved that I would never know sin, lest I, too,
should suffer so horribly. I threw myself at once into the arms of God.
Yet I have suffered--how I have suffered!'

"His face was contorted, and his lips worked. I stood as if under a
spell, my eyes upon his face. I had only the desire to hear him. He went
on, speaking now in a voice roughened by emotion:

"'For I became like these monks. You'--and he pointed at me with
outstretched fingers--'you, my wraith, made in my very likeness, were
surely born when I was born, to torment me. For, while I have prayed, I
have been conscious of your neglect of prayer as if it were my own. When
I have believed, I have been conscious of your unbelief as if it were
my own. Whatever I have feebly tried to do for God, has been marred and
defaced by all that you have left undone. I have wrestled with you; I
have tried to hold you back; I have tried to lead you with me where I
want to go, where I must go. All these years I have tried, all these
years I have striven. But it has seemed as if God did not choose it.
When you have been sinning, I have been agonising. I have lain upon the
floor of my cell in the night, and I have torn at my evil heart.
For--sometimes--I have longed--how I have longed!--to sin your sin.'

"He crossed himself. Sudden tears sprang into his eyes.

"'I have called you my demon,' he cried. 'But you are my cross. Oh,
brother, will you not be my crown?'

"His eyes, shadowed with tears, gazed down into mine. Bernard, in that
moment, I understood all--my depression, my unreasoning despair, the
fancied hatred of others, even my few good impulses, all came from him,
from this living holy wraith of my evil self.

"'Will you not be my crown?' he said.

"Bernard, there, in the snow, I fell at his feet. I confessed to him. I
received his absolution.

"And, as the light of the dawn grew strong upon the mountains, he, my
other self, my wraith, blessed me."

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a long silence between us. Then I said:--

"And now?"

"And now you know why I have changed. That day, as I went down into the
land of the sunshine, I made a vow."

"A vow?"

"Yes; to be his crown, not his cross. I soon returned to England. At
first I was happy, and then one day my old evil nature came upon me like
a giant. I fell again into sin, and, even as I sinned, I saw his face
looking into mine, Bernard, pale, pale to the lips, and with eyes--such
sad eyes of reproach! Then I thought I was not fit to live, and I tried
to kill myself. They saved me, and brought me here."

"Yes; and now, Hubert?"

"Now," he said, "I am so happy. God surely placed me here where I cannot
sin. The days pass and the nights, and they are stainless. And he--he
comes by night and blesses me. I live for him now, and see always the
grey walls of his monastery, his face which shall, at last, be
completely mine."

       *       *       *       *       *

"Good-bye," the doctor said to me as I got into the carriage to drive
back to the station. "Yes, he is perfectly happy, happier in his mania,
I believe, than you or I in our sanity."

I drove away from that huge home of madness, set in the midst of lovely
gardens in a smiling landscape, and I pondered those last words of the
doctor's:--

"You and I--in our sanity."

And, thinking of the peace that lay on Hubert's face, I compared the
so-called mad of the world with the so-called sane--and wondered.



THE MAN WHO INTERVENED


I

The atmosphere of the room in which Sergius Blake was sitting seemed to
him strange and cold. As he looked round it, he could imagine that a
light mist invaded it stealthily, like miasma rising from some sinister
marsh. There was surely a cloud about the electric light that gleamed in
the ceiling, a cloud sweeping in feathery, white flakes across the faces
of the pictures upon the wall. Even the familiar furniture seemed to
loom out faintly, with a gaunt and grotesque aspect, from shadows less
real, yet more fearful, than any living form could be.

Sergius stared round him slowly, pressing his strong lips together. When
he concentrated his gaze upon any one thing--a table, a sofa, a
chair--the cloud faded, and the object stood out clearly before his
eyes. Yet always the rest of the room seemed to lie in mist and in
shadows. He knew that this dim atmosphere did not really exist, that it
was projected by his mind. Yet it troubled him, and added a dull horror
to his thoughts, which moved again and again, in persistent promenade,
round one idea.

The hour was seven o'clock of an autumn night. Darkness lay over
London, and rain made a furtive music on roofs and pavements. Sergius
Blake listened to the drops upon the panes of his windows. They seemed
to beckon him forth, to tell him that it was time to exchange thought
for action. He had come to a definite and tremendous resolution. He must
now carry it out.

He got up slowly from his chair, and with the movement the mist seemed
to gather itself together in the room and to disappear. It passed away,
evaporating among the pictures and ornaments, the prayer-rugs and
divans. A clearness and an insight came to Sergius. He stood still by
the piano, on which he rested one hand lightly, and listened. The
rain-drops pattered close by. Beyond them rose the dull music of the
evening traffic of New Bond Street, in which thoroughfare he lived. As
he stood thus at attention, his young and handsome face seemed carved in
stone. His lips were set in a hard and straight line. His dark-grey eyes
stared, like eyes in a photograph. The muscles of his long-fingered
hands were tense and knotted. He was in evening dress, and had been
engaged to dine in Curzon Street; but he had written a hasty note to say
he was ill and could not come. Another appointment claimed him. He had
made it for himself.

Presently, lifting his hand from the piano, he took up a small leather
case from a table that stood near, opened it, and drew out a revolver.
He examined it carefully. Two chambers were loaded. They would be
enough. He put on his long overcoat, and slipped the revolver into his
left breast pocket. His heart could beat against it there.

Each time his heart pulsed, Sergius seemed to hear the silence of
another heart.

And now, though his mind was quite clear, and the mists and shadows had
slunk away, his familiar room looked very peculiar to him. The very
chair in which he generally sat wore the aspect of a stranger. Was the
wall paper really blue? Sergius went close up to it and examined it
narrowly, and then he drew back and laughed softly, like a child. In the
sound of his laugh irresponsibility chimed. "What is the cab fare to
Phillimore Place, Kensington?" he thought, searching in his waistcoat
pocket. "Half a crown?" He put the coin carefully in the ticket pocket
of his overcoat, buttoned the coat up slowly, took his hat and stick,
and drew on a pair of lavender gloves. Just then a new thought seemed to
strike him and he glanced down at his hands.

"Lavender gloves for such a deed!" he murmured. For a moment he paused
irresolute, even partially unbuttoned them. But then he smiled and shook
his head. In some way the gloves would not be wholly inappropriate.
Sergius cast one final glance round the room.

"When I stand here again," he said aloud, "I shall be a criminal--a
criminal!"

He repeated the last word, as if trying thoroughly to realise its
meaning.

Then he opened the door swiftly and went out on to the staircase.

Just as he was putting a hasty foot upon the first stair, a man out in
the street touched his electric bell. Its thin tingling cry made Sergius
start and hesitate. In the semi-twilight he waited, his hands deep in
his pockets, his silk hat tilted slightly over his eyes. The porter
tramped along the passage below. The hall door opened, and a deep and
strong voice asked, rather anxiously and breathlessly:--

"Is Mr. Blake at home?"

"I rather think he's gone out, sir."

"No--surely--how long ago?"

"I don't know, sir. He may be in. I'll see."

"Do--do--quickly. If he's in, say I must see him--Mr Endover. But you
know my name."

"Yes, sir."

The porter, mounting the stone staircase, suddenly came upon Sergius
standing there like a stone figure.

"Lord, sir!" he ejaculated. "You give me a start!" His voice was loud
from astonishment.

"Hush!" Sergius whispered. "Go down at once and say that I've gone out!"

The man turned to obey, but Anthony Endover was half-way up the stairs.

"It's all right," he exclaimed, as he met the porter.

He had passed him in an instant and arrived at the place where Sergius
was standing.

"Sergius," he cried, and there was a great music of relief in his voice.
"Hulloa! Now you're not going out."

"Yes, I am, Anthony."

"But I want to talk to you tremendously. Where are you going?"

"To dine with the Venables in Curzon Street."

"I met young Venables just now, and he said you'd written that you were
ill and couldn't come. He asked me to fill your place."

Sergius muttered a "Damn!" under his breath.

"Well, come in for a minute," he said, attempting no excuse.

He turned round slowly and re-entered his flat, followed by Endover.


II

For some years Endover had been Sergius Blake's close friend. They had
left Eton at the same time; had been at Oxford together. Their intimacy,
born in the playing fields, grew out of its cricket and football stage
as their minds developed, and the world of thought opened like a holy
of holies--beyond the world of action. They both passed behind the veil,
but Anthony went farther than Sergius. Yet this slight separation did
not lead to alienation, but merely caused the admiration of Sergius for
his friend to be mingled with respect. He looked up to Anthony.
Recognising that his friend's mind was more thoughtful than his own,
while his passions were far stronger than Anthony's, he grew to lean
upon Anthony, to claim his advice sometimes, to follow it often. Anthony
was his mentor, and thought he knew instinctively all the workings of
Sergius' mind and all the possibilities of his nature. The mother of
Sergius was a Russian and a great heiress. Soon after he left Oxford,
she died. His father had been killed by an accident when he was a child.
So he was rich, free, young, in London, with no one to look after him,
until Anthony Endover, who had meanwhile taken orders, was attached as
fourth--or fifth--curate to a smart West End church, and came to live in
lodgings in George Street, Hanover Square.

Then, as Sergius laughingly said, he had a father confessor on the
premises. Yet to-night he had bidden his porter to tell a lie in order
to keep his father confessor out. The lie had been vain. Sergius led the
way morosely into his drawing-room, and turned on the light. Anthony
walked up to the fire, and stretched his tall athletic figure in its
long ebon coat. His firm throat rose out of a jam-pot collar, but his
thin, strongly-marked face rather suggested an intellectual Hercules
than a Mayfair parson, and neither his voice nor his manner was tinged
with what so many people consider the true clericalism.

For all that he was a splendid curate, as his rector very well knew.

Now he stood by the fire for a minute in silence, while Sergius moved
uneasily about the room. Presently Anthony turned round.

"It's beastly wet," he said in a melodious ringing voice. "The black dog
is on me to-night, Sergius."

"Oh!"

"You don't want to go out, really," Anthony continued, looking narrowly
at his friend's curiously rigid face.

"Yes, I do."

"Not to Curzon Street. They've filled up your place. I told Venables to
ask Hugh Graham. I knew he was disengaged to-night. Besides--you're
seedy."

Sergius frowned.

"I'm all right again now," he said coldly, "and I particularly wished to
go. You needn't have been so deuced anxious to make the number right."

"Well, it's done now. And I can't say I'm sorry, because I want to have
a talk with you. I say, Serge, take off those lavender gloves, pull off
your coat, let's send out for some dinner, and have a comfortable
evening together in here. I've had a hard day's work, and I want a
rest."

"I must go out presently."

"After dinner then."

"Before ten o'clock."

"Say eleven."

"No--that's too late."

A violent, though fleeting expression of anxiety crossed Endover's face.
Then, with a smile, he said:--

"All right. Shall I ring the bell and order some dinner to be sent in
from Galton's?"

"If you like. I'm not hungry."

"I am."

Anthony summoned the servant and gave the order. Then he turned again to
Sergius.

"Here, I'll help you off with your coat," he said.

But Sergius moved away.

"No thanks, I'll do it. There are some cigarettes on the mantelpiece."

Anthony went to get one. As he was taking it, he looked into the
mirror over the fireplace, and saw Sergius--while removing his
overcoat--transfer something from it to the left breast pocket of his
evening coat.

He wanted still to feel his heart beat against that tiny weapon, still
to hear--with each pulse of his own heart--the silence, not yet alive,
but so soon to be alive, of that other heart.

And, as Anthony glanced into the mirror, he said to himself, "I was
right!"

He withdrew his eyes from the glass and lit his cigarette. Sergius
joined him.

"I'm in the blues to-night," Anthony said, puffing at his cigarette.

"Are you?"

"Yes--been down in the East End. The misery there is ghastly."

"It's just as bad in the West End, only different in kind. You're
smoking your cigarette all down one side."

Anthony took it out of his mouth and threw it into the grate. He lit two
or three matches, but held them so badly that they went out before he
could ignite another cigarette. At last, inwardly cursing his nerves
that made his hasty actions belie the determined calm of his face, he
dropped the cigarette.

"I don't think I'll smoke before dinner," he said. "Ah, here it is. And
wine--champagne--that's good for you!"

"I shan't drink it. I hate to drink alone."

"You shan't drink alone then."

"What d'you mean?"

"I'll drink with you."

"But you're a teetotaller."

"I don't care to-night."

Anthony spoke briefly and firmly. Sergius was amazed.

"What!" he said. "You're going to break your vow? You a parson!"

"Sometimes salvation lies in the breaking of a vow," Anthony answered as
they sat down. "Have you never registered a silent vow?"

Sergius looked at him hard in the eyes.

"Yes," he said; and in his voice there was the hint of a thrilling note.
"But I shan't--I shouldn't break it."

"I've known a soul saved alive by the breaking of a vow," Anthony
answered. "Give me some champagne."

Sergius--wondering, as much as the condition of his mind, possessed by
one idea, would allow--filled his friend's glass. Anthony began to eat,
with a well-assumed hunger. Sergius scarcely touched food, but drank a
good deal of wine. The hands of the big oaken-cased clock that stood in
a far corner of the room crawled slowly upon their round, recurring
tour. Anthony's eyes were often upon them, then moved with a swift
directness that was akin to passion to the face of Sergius, which was
always strangely rigid, like the painted face of a mask.

"I sat by a woman to-day," he said presently, "sat by her in an attic
that looked on to a narrow street full of rain, and watched her die."

"This morning?"

"Yes."

"And now she's been out of the world seven or eight hours. Lucky woman!"

"Ah, Sergius, but the mischief, the horror of it was that she wasn't
ready to go, not a bit ready."

Sergius suddenly smiled, a straight, glaring smile, over the sparkling
champagne that he was lifting to his lips.

"Yes; it's devilish bad for a woman or a--man to be shot into another
world before they're prepared," he said. "It must be--devilish bad."

"And how can we know that any one is thoroughly prepared?"

Sergius' smile developed into a short laugh.

"It's easier to be certain who isn't than who is," he said.

The eyes of Anthony fled to the clock face mechanically and returned.

"Death terrified me to-day, Sergius," he said; "and it struck me that
the most awful power that God has given to man is the power of setting
death--like a dog--at another man."

Sergius swallowed all the wine in his glass at a gulp. He was no longer
smiling. His hand went up to his left side.

"It may be awful," he rejoined; "but it's grand. By Heaven! it's
magnificent."

He got up, as if excited, and moved about the room, while Anthony went
on pretending to eat. After a minute or two Sergius sat down again.

"Power of any kind is a grand thing," he said.

"Only power for good."

"You're bound to say that; you're a parson."

"I only say what I really feel; you know that, Serge."

"Ah, you don't understand."

Anthony looked at him with a sudden, strong significance.

"Part of a parson's profession--the most important part--is to
understand men who aren't parsons."

"You think you understand men?"

"Some men."

"Me, for instance?"

The question came abruptly, defiantly. Anthony seemed glad to answer it.

"Well, yes, Sergius; I think I do thoroughly understand you. My great
friendship alone might well make me do that."

The face of Sergius grew a little softer in expression, but he did not
assent.

"Perhaps it might blind you," he said.

"I don't think so."

"Well, then, now, if you understand me--tell me--"

Sergius broke off suddenly.

"This champagne is awfully good," he said, filling his glass again.

"What were you going to say?" Anthony asked.

"I don't know--nothing."

Anthony tried to conceal his disappointment. Sergius had seemed to be on
the verge of over-leaping the barrier which lay between them. Once that
barrier was overleapt, or broken down, Anthony felt that the mission he
had imposed upon himself would stand a chance of being accomplished,
that his gnawing anxiety would be laid to rest. But once more Sergius
diffused around him a strange and cold atmosphere of violent and knowing
reserve. He went away from the table and sat down close to the fire.
From there he threw over his shoulder the remark:--

"No man or woman ever understands another--really."


III

Anthony did not reply for a moment and Sergius continued:--

"You, for instance, could never guess what I should do in certain
circumstances."

"Such as--"

"Oh, in a thousand things."

"I should have a shrewd idea."

"No."

Anthony didn't contradict him, but got up from the dinner-table and
joined him by the fire, glass in hand.

"I might not let you know how much I guessed, how much I knew."

Sergius laughed.

"Oh, ignorance always surrounds itself with mystery," he said.

"Knowledge need not go naked."

Again the eyes of the two friends met in the firelight, and over the
face of Sergius there ran a new expression. There was an awakening of
wonder in it, but no uneasiness. Anxiety was far away from him that
night. When passion has gripped a man, passion strong enough, resolute
enough, to over-ride all the prejudices of civilisation, all the
promptings of the coward within us, whose voice, whining, we name
prudence, the semi-comprehension, the criticism of another man cannot
move him. Sergius wondered for an instant whether Anthony suspected
against what his heart was beating. That was all.

While he wondered, the clock chimed the half hour after nine. He heard
it.

"I shall have to go very soon," he said.

"You can't. Just listen to the rain."

"Rain! What's that got to do with it?"

Sergius spoke with a sudden unutterable contempt.

"Ring for another bottle of champagne," Anthony replied. "This one is
empty."

"Well--for a parson and a teetotaller, I must say!"

Sergius rang the bell. A second bottle was opened. The servant went out
of the room. As he closed the door, the wind sighed harshly against the
window panes, driving the rain before it.

"Rough at sea to-night," Anthony said.

The remark was an obvious one; but, as spoken, it sounded oddly furtive,
and full of hidden meaning. Sergius evidently found it so, for he said:

"Why, whom d'you know that's going to sea to-night?"

Anthony was startled by the quick question, and replied almost
nervously:--

"Nobody in particular--why should I?"

"I don't know why, but I think you do."

"People one knows cross the channel every night almost."

"Of course," Sergius said indifferently.

He glanced towards the clock and again mechanically his hand went up,
for a second, to his left breast. Anthony leaned forward in his chair
quickly, and broke into speech. He had seen the stare at the clock-face,
the gesture.

"It's strange," he said, "how people go out of our lives, how friends
go, and enemies!"

"Enemies!"

"Yes. I sometimes wonder which exit is the sadder. When a friend
goes--with him goes, perhaps for ever, the chance of saying 'I am your
friend.' When an enemy goes--"

"Well, what then?"

"With him goes, perhaps for ever, too, the chance of saying, 'I am not
your enemy.'"

"Pshaw! Parson's talk, Anthony."

"No, Sergius, other men forgive besides parsons; and other men, and
parsons too, pass by their chances of forgiving."

"You're a whole Englishman, I'm only half an Englishman. There's
something untamed in my blood, and I say--damn forgiveness!"

"And yet you've forgiven."

"Whom?"

"Olga Mayne."

The face of Sergius did not change at the sound of this name, unless,
perhaps, to a more fixed calm, a more still and pale coldness.

"Olga is punished," he said. "She is ruined."

"Her ruin may be repaired."

Sergius smiled quietly.

"You think so?"

"Yes. Tell me, Sergius"--Anthony spoke with a strong earnestness, a
strong excitement that he strove to conceal and hold in check--"you
loved her?"

"Yes, I loved her--certainly."

"You will always love her?"

"Since I'm not changeable, I daresay I shall."

Anthony's thin, eager face brightened. A glow of warmth burned in his
eyes and on his cheeks.

"Then you would wish her ruin repaired."

"Should I?"

"If you love her, you must."

"How could it be repaired?"

"By her marriage with--Vernon."

Anthony's strong voice quivered before he pronounced the last word, and
his eyes were alight with fervent anxiety. He was looking at Sergius
like a man on the watch for a tremendous outbreak of emotion. The
champagne he had drunk--a new experience for him since he had taken
orders--put a sort of wild finishing touch to the intensity of the
feelings, under the impulse of which he had forced himself upon Sergius
to-night. He supposed that his inward excitement must be more than
matched by the so different inward excitement of his friend. But he--who
thought he understood!--had no true conception of the region of cold,
frosty fury in which Sergius was living, like a being apart from all
other men, ostracised by the immensity and peculiarity of his own power
of emotion. Therefore he was astonished when Sergius, with undiminished
quietude, replied:

"Oh, with Vernon, that charming man of fashion, whose very soul, they
say, always wears lavender gloves? You think that would be a good
thing?"

"Good! I don't say that. I say--as the world is now--the only thing. He
is the author of her fall. He should be her husband."

"And I?"

Anthony stretched out his hand to grasp his friend's hand, but Sergius
suddenly took up his champagne glass, and avoided the demonstration of
sympathy.

"You can be nothing to her now, Serge," Anthony said, and his voice
quivered with sympathy.

"You think so? I might be."

"What?"

"Oh, not her husband, not her lover, not her friend."

"What then?"

Sergius avoided answering.

"You would have her settle down with Vernon in Phillimore Place?" he
said. "Play the wife to his noble husband? Well, I know there's been
some idea of that, as I told you yesterday."

The clock chimed ten. Although Sergius seemed so calm, so
self-possessed, Anthony observed that now he paid no heed to the little,
devilish note of time. This new subject of conversation had been
Anthony's weapon. Desperately he had used it, and not, it seemed,
altogether in vain.

"Yes; as you told me yesterday."

"And it seems good to you?"

"It seems to me the only thing possible now."

"There are generally more possibilities than one in any given event, I
fancy."

Again Anthony was surprised at the words of Sergius, who seemed to grow
calmer as he grew more excited, who seemed, to-night, strangely
powerful, not simply in temper, but even in intellect.

"For a woman there is sometimes only one possibility if she is to be
saved from ignominy, Serge."

"So you think that Olga Mayne must become the wife of Vernon, who is
a--"

"Coward. Yes."

At the word coward, Sergius seemed startled out of his hard calm. He
looked swiftly and searchingly at Anthony.

"Why do you say coward?" he asked sharply. "I was not going to use that
word."

Anthony was obviously disconcerted.

"It came to me," he said hurriedly.

"Why?"

"Any man that brings a girl to the dust is a coward."

"Ah--that's not what you meant," Sergius said.

Anthony stole a glance at the clock. The hand crawled slowly over the
quarter of an hour past ten.

"No, it was not," he said slowly.


IV

Sergius got up from his chair and stood by the fire. He was obviously
becoming engrossed by the conversation. Anthony could at least notice
this with thankfulness.

"Anthony, I see you've got a fresh knowledge of Vernon since I was with
you yesterday," Sergius continued; "some new knowledge of his nature."

"Perhaps I have."

"How did you get it?"

"Does that matter?"

"You have heard of something about him?"

"No."

"You have seen him, then; I say, you have seen him?"

Anthony hesitated. He pushed the champagne bottle over towards Sergius.
It had been placed on a little table near the fireplace.

"No; I don't want to drink. Why on earth don't you answer me, Anthony?"

"I have always felt that Vernon was a coward. His conduct to you shows
it. He was--or seemed--your friend. He saw you deeply in love with
this--with Olga. He chose to ruin her after he knew of your love. Who
but a coward could act in such a way?"

An expression of dark impatience came into the eyes of Sergius.

"You are confusing treachery and cowardice, and you are doing it
untruthfully. You have seen Vernon."

Anthony thought for a moment, and then said:

"Yes, I have."

"By chance, of course. Why did you speak to him?"

"I thought I would."

Sergius was obviously disturbed and surprised. The deeply emotional, yet
rigid calm in which he had been enveloped all the evening was broken at
last. A slight excitement, a distinct surface irritation, woke in him.
Anthony felt an odd sense of relief as he observed it. For the
constraint of Sergius had begun to weigh upon him like a heavy burden
and to move him to an indefinable dread.

"I wonder you didn't cut him," Sergius said. "You're my friend. And
he's--he's--"

"He's done you a deadly injury. I know that. I am your friend, Serge; I
would do anything for you."

"Yet you speak to that--devil."

"I spoke to him because I'm your friend."

Sergius sat down again, with a heavy look, the look of a man who has
been thrashed, and means to return every blow with curious interest.

"You parsons are a riddle to me," he said in a low and dull voice. "You
and your charity and your loving-kindness, and your turning the cheek to
the smiter and all the rest of it. And as to your way of showing
friendship--"

His voice died away in something that was almost a growl, and he stared
at the carpet. Between it and his eyes once more the mist seemed rising
stealthily. It began to curl upwards softly about him. As he watched it,
he heard Anthony say:--

"Sergius, you don't understand how well I understand you."

The big hand of the clock had left the half-hour after ten behind him.
Anthony breathed more freely. At last he could be more explicit, more
unreserved. He thought of a train rushing through the night, devouring
the spaces of land that lie between London and the sea that speaks,
moaning, to the South of England. He saw a ship glide out from the
dreary docks. Her lights gleamed. He heard the bell struck and the harsh
cry of the sailors, and then the dim sigh of a coward who had escaped
what he had merited. Then he heard Sergius laugh.

"That again, Anthony!"

"Yes. I didn't meet Vernon by chance at all."

"What? You wrote to him, you fixed a meeting?"

"I went to Phillimore Place, to his house."

Sergius said nothing. Strange furrows ploughed themselves in his young
face, which was growing dusky white. He remained in the attitude of one
devoted entirely to listening.

"You hear, Sergius?"

"Go on--when?"

"To-day. I decided to go after I met you yesterday night--and after I
had seen that woman die--unprepared."

"What could she have to do with it?"

"Much. Everything almost."

Anthony got up now, almost sprang up from his chair. His face was
glowing and working with emotion. There was a choking sensation in his
throat.

"You don't know what it is," he said hoarsely, "to a man with--with
strong religious belief to see a human being's soul go out to blackness,
to punishment--perhaps to punishment that will never end. It's
abominable. It's unbearable. That woman will haunt me. Her despair will
be with me always. I could not add to that horror."

His eyes once more sought the clock. Seeing the hour, he turned, with a
kind of liberating relief, to Sergius.

"I couldn't add to it," he exclaimed, almost fiercely, "so I went to
Vernon."

"Why?"

"Sergius--to warn him."

There was a dead silence. Even the rain was hushed against the window.
Then Sergius said, in a voice that was cold as the sound of falling
water in winter:--

"I don't understand."

"Because you won't understand how I have learnt to know you, Sergius, to
understand you, to read your soul."

"Mine too?"

"Yes; I've felt this awful blow that's come upon you--the loss of Olga,
her ruin--as if I myself were you. We haven't said much about it till
yesterday. Then, from the way you spoke, from the way you looked, from
what you said, even what you wouldn't say, I guessed all that was in
your heart."

"You guessed all that?"

Sergius was looking directly at Anthony and leaning against the
mantelpiece, along which he stretched one arm. His fingers closed and
unclosed, with a mechanical and rhythmical movement, round a china
figure. The motion looked as if it were made in obedience to some
fiercely monotonous music.

"Yes, more--I knew it."

Sergius nodded.

"I see," he said.

Anthony touched his arm, almost with an awe-struck gesture.

"I knew then that you--that you intended to kill Vernon. And--God
forgive me!--at first I was almost glad."

"Well--go on!"

Anthony shivered. The voice of Sergius was so strangely calm and level.

"I--I--" he stammered. "Serge, why do you look at me like that?"

Sergius looked away without a word.

"For I, too, hated Vernon, more for what he had done to you even than
for what he had done to Olga. But, Sergius, after you had gone, in the
night, and in the dawn too, I kept on thinking of it over and over. I
couldn't get away from it--that you were going to commit such an awful
crime. I never slept. When at last it was morning, I went down to my
district; there are criminals there, you know."

"I know."

"I looked at them with new eyes, and in their eyes I saw you, always
you; and then I said to myself could I bear that you should become a
criminal?"

"You said that?"

The fingers of Sergius closed over the china figure, and did not
unclose.

"Yes. I almost resolved then to go to Vernon at once and to tell him
what I suspected--what I really knew."

The clock struck eleven. Anthony heard it; Sergius did not hear it.

"Then I went to sit with that wretched woman. Already I had resolved, as
I believed, on the course to take. I had no thought for Vernon yet, only
for you. It seemed to me that I did not care in the least to save him
from death. I only cared to save you--my friend--from murder. But when
the woman died I felt differently. My resolve was strengthened, my
desire was just doubled. I had to save not only you, but also him. He
was not ready to die."

Anthony trembled with a passion of emotion. Sergius remained always
perfectly calm, the china figure prisoned in his hand.

"So--so I went to him, Sergius."

"Yes."

"I saw him. Almost as I entered he received your letter, saying that you
forgave him, that you would call to-night after eight o'clock to tell
him so, and to urge on his marriage with Olga. When he had read the
letter--I interpreted it to him; and then I found out that he was a
coward. His terror was abject--despicable; he implored my help; he
started at every sound."

"To-night he'll sleep quietly, Anthony."

"To-night he has gone. Before morning he will be on the sea."

The sound of the wind came to them again, and Sergius understood why
Anthony had said: "Rough at sea to-night."

Suddenly Sergius moved; he unclosed his fingers: the ruins of the china
figure fell from them in a dust of blue and white upon the mantelpiece.

"No--it's too late, Sergius. He went at eleven."

Sergius stood quite still.

"You came here to-night to keep me here till he had gone?"

"Yes."

"That's why you--"

He stopped.

"That's why I came. That's why I broke my pledge. I thought wine--any
weapon to keep you from this crime. And, Sergius, think. Vernon dead
could never have restored Olga to the place she has lost. That, too,
must have driven me to the right course, though I scarcely thought of it
till now."

Sergius said, as if in reply: "So you have understood me!"

"Yes, Sergius. Friendship is something. Let us thank God, not even that
he is safe, but that you--you are safe--and that Olga--"

"Hush! Has she gone with him?"

"She will meet him. He has sworn to marry her."

The hand of Sergius moved to his left breast. Anthony's glowing eyes
were fixed upon him.

"Ah, yes, Sergius," Anthony cried. "Put that cursed, cursed thing down,
put it away. Now it can never wreck your life and my peace."

Sergius drew out the revolver slowly and carefully. Again the mist rose
around him. But it was no longer white; it was scarlet.

There was a report. Anthony fell, without a word, a cry.

Then Sergius bent down, and listened to the silence of his friend's
heart--the long silence of the man who intervened.



AFTER TO-MORROW


I

In his gilded cage, above the window-boxes that were full of white
daisies, the canary chirped with a desultory vivacity. That was the only
near sound that broke the silence in the drawing-room of No. 100 Mill
Street, Knightsbridge, in which a man and a woman stood facing one
another. Away, beyond his twittering voice, sang in the London streets
the muffled voice of the season. The time was late afternoon, and rays
of mellow light slanted into the pretty room, and touched its crowd of
inanimate occupants with a radiance in which the motes danced merrily.
The china faces of two goblins on the mantelpiece glowed with a
grotesque meaning, and their yellow smiles seemed to call aloud on
mirth; but the faces of the man and woman were pale, and their lips
trembled, and did not smile.

She was tall, dark, and passionate-looking, perhaps twenty-eight or
thirty. He was a few years older, a man so steadfast in expression that
silly people, who spring at exaggeration as saints spring at heaven,
called him stern, and even said he looked forbidding--at balls.

At last the song of the canary was broken upon by a voice. Sir Hugh
Maine spoke, very quietly. "Why not?" he said.

"I don't think I can tell you," Mrs. Glinn answered, with an obvious
effort.

"You prefer to refuse me without giving a reason?"

"I have a right to," she said.

"I don't question it. You cannot expect me to say more than that."

He took up his hat, which lay on a chair, and smoothed it mechanically
with his coat-sleeve.

The action seemed to pierce her like a knife, for she started, and
half-extended her hand. "Don't!" she exclaimed. "At least, wait one
moment. So you belong to the second class of men."

"What do you mean?"

"Men are divided into two classes--those who refuse to be refused, and
those who accept. But don't be too--too swift in your acceptance. After
all, a refusal is not exactly a bank-note."

She tried to smile.

"But I am exactly a beggar," he answered, still keeping the hat in his
hand. "And if you have nothing to give me, I may as well go."

"And spend the rest of your life in sweeping the old crossing?"

"And spend the rest of my life as I can," he said. "That need not
concern you."

"A woman must be all to a man, or nothing?"

"You must be all to me, or nothing."

She sat down in an arm-chair in that part of the room that was in
shadow. She always sat instinctively in shadow when she wanted to think.

"Well?" Sir Hugh said. "What are you thinking?"

She glanced up at him. "That you don't look much like a beggar," she
said.

"It is possible to feel tattered in a frock-coat and patent-leather
boots," he answered. "Good-bye. I am going back to my crossing." And he
moved towards the door.

"No, stop!" she exclaimed. "Before you go, tell me one thing."

"What is it?"

"Will you ever ask me to marry you again?"

He looked hard into her eyes. "I shall always want to, but I shall never
do it," he said slowly.

"I am glad you have told me that. We women depend so much on a
repetition of the offence, when we blame a man for saying he loves us,
and ask him not to do it again. If you really mean only to propose once,
I must reconsider my position."

She was laughing, but the tears stood in her eyes.

"Why do you want to make this moment a farcical one?" he asked rather
bitterly.

"Oh, Hugh!" she answered, "don't you see? Because it is really--really
so tragic. I only try to do for this moment what we all try to do for
life."

"Then you love me?" he said, moving a step forward.

"I never denied that," she replied. "I might as well deny that I am a
woman."

He held out his arms. "Eve--then I shall never go back to the crossing."

But she drew back. "Go--go there till to-morrow! To-morrow afternoon I
will see you; and if you love me after that--"

"Yes?"

She turned away and pressed the bell. "Good-bye," she said. Her voice
sounded strange to him.

He came nearer, and touched her hand; but she drew it away.

"You may kiss me," she said.

"Eve!"

"After to-morrow."

The footman came in answer to the bell. Mrs Glinn did not turn round. "I
only rang for you to open the door for Sir Hugh," she said. "Good-bye
then, Sir Hugh. Come at five."

"I will," he answered, wondering.

When he had gone, Mrs Glinn sat down in a chair and took up a French
novel. It was by Gyp. She tried to read it, with tears running over her
cheeks. But at last she laid it down.

"After to-morrow," she murmured. "Ah, why--why does a woman ever love
twice?" And then she sobbed.

But the canary sang, and the motes danced merrily in the sunbeams. And
on the table where she had put it down lay "_Le Mariage de Chiffon_."


II

That evening, when Sir Hugh Maine came back to his rooms in Jermyn
Street after dining out, he found a large man sprawling in one of his
saddle-back chairs, puffing vigorously at a pipe that looked worn with
long and faithful service. The man took the pipe out of his mouth and
sprang up.

"Hullo, Maine!" he cried. "D'you recognise the tobacco and me?"

Hugh grasped his hand warmly. "Rather," he said. "Neither is changed. At
least--h'm--I think you both seem a bit stronger even than usual. Who
would have thought of seeing you, Manning? I did not know you were in
Europe."

"I came from Asia. I thought I should like to hear Melba before the end
of the season. And it was getting sultry out there. So here I am."

"And were those your only reasons?"

"Give me a brandy-and-soda," said the other.

Maine did as he was bid, lit a cigar, and sat down, stretching out his
long legs. The other man took a pull at his glass, and spoke again.

"I am very fond of music," he said; "and Melba sings very well."

"Ah!"

"Look here, Maine," Manning broke out suddenly, "you are right--I had
another reason. Kipling says that those who have heard the East
a-calling never heed any other voice. He's wrong though. The West has
been calling me, or, at least, a voice in the West, and I have resisted
it for a deuce of a time. But at last it became imperative."

"A woman's voice, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"Tell me what is its _timbre_, if you care to."

"I will. You're an old friend, and I can talk to you. But you tell me
one thing first: Is a man really a fool to marry a woman with a past?"

"You are going to?"

"I have tried not to. I have been trying not to for three years. Listen!
When I was travelling in Japan I met her. She was with an American
called Glinn."

"What?"

"You knew him?"

"No! It's all right. I was surprised, because at the moment I was
thinking of that very name."

"Oh! Well, she passed as Mrs Glinn; but, somehow, it got out that she
was something else. The usual story, you know. People fought shy of
her; but I don't think she cared much. Glinn was devoted to her, and she
loved him, and was as true to him as any wife could have been. Then the
tragedy came."

"What was it?"

"Glinn died suddenly in Tokio, of typhoid. She nursed him to the end.
And when the end came her situation was awful, so lonely and deserted.
There wasn't a woman in the hotel who would be her friend; so I tried to
come to the rescue, arranged her affairs, saw about the funeral, and did
what I could. She was well off; Glinn left her nearly all his money. He
would have married her, only he had a wife alive somewhere."

"And you fell in love with her, of course?"

"That was the sort of thing. If you knew her you would not wonder at it.
She was not a bad woman. Glinn had been the only one. She loved him too
much; that was all. She came to Europe, and lived in Paris for a time,
keeping the name of Mrs Glinn. I used to see her sometimes, but I never
said anything. You see, there was her past. In fact, I have been
fighting against her for three years. I went to India to get cured; but
it was no good. And now, here I am."

"And she is in Paris?"

"No, in London at present; but I didn't know her address till to-day. I
think she had her doubts of me, and meant to give me the slip."

"How did you find it out?"

"Quite by chance. I was walking in Mill Street, Knightsbridge, and saw
her pass in a victoria."

Maine got up suddenly, and went over to the spirit-stand. "In Mill
Street?" he said.

"Yes. The carriage stopped at No. 100. She went in. A footman came out
and carried in her rug. _Ergo_, she lives there."

"How hot it is!" said Maine in a hard voice. He threw up one of the
windows and leaned out. He felt as if he were choking. A little way down
the street a half-tipsy guardsman was reeling along, singing his own
private version of "Tommy Atkins." He narrowly avoided a lamp-post by an
abrupt lurch which took him into the gutter. Maine heard some one laugh.
It was himself.

"Well, old chap," said Manning, who had come up behind him, "what would
you advise me to do? I'm in a fix. I'm in love with Eve--that's her
name; I can't live without her happily, and yet I hate to marry a woman
with a--well, you know how it is."

Maine drew himself back into the room and faced round. "Does she love
you?" he asked; and there was a curious change in his manner towards his
friend.

"I don't know that she does," Manning said, rather uncomfortably. "But
that would come right. She would marry me, naturally."

"Why?"

"Well, I mean the position. Lady Herbert Manning could go where Mrs
Glinn could not, and all that sort of thing."

"The only question is whether you can bring yourself to ask her?"

"My dear chap, you don't put it too pleasantly."

"It's the fact, though."

Lord Herbert hesitated. Then he said dubiously, "I suppose so."

Maine lit another cigar and sat down again. His face was very white.
"You're rather conventional, Manning," he said presently.

"Conventional! Why?"

"You think her--this Mrs Glinn--a good woman. Isn't that enough for
you?"

"But, besides Eve and myself, there is a third person in the situation."

"How on earth did you find out that?" exclaimed Maine.

The other looked surprised. "How did I find out? I don't understand
you."

Maine recollected himself. He had made the common mistake of fancying
another might know a thing because he knew it.

"Who is this third person?" he asked.

"Society."

"Ah! I said you were conventional."

"Every sensible man and woman is."

"I don't know that I agree. But the third person does certainly
complicate the situation. What are you going to do then?"

Lord Herbert put down his pipe. It was not smoked out. "That's what I
want to know," he answered.

"Of course, there's the one way--of being unconventional. Then, there's
the way of being conventional but unhappy. Is there any alternative?"

Lord Herbert hesitated obviously, but at length he said: "There is, of
course; but Mrs Glinn is a curious sort of woman. I don't quite know--"

He paused, looking at his friend. Maine's face was drawn and fierce.

"What's the row?" Lord Herbert asked.

"Nothing; only I shouldn't advise you to try the alternative. That's
all."

"Maine, what do you mean?"

"Just this," replied the other. "That I know Mrs Glinn, that I agree
with you about her character--"

"You know her? That's odd!"

"I have known her for a year."

They looked each other in the eyes while a minute passed. Then Lord
Herbert said slowly, "I understand."

"What?"

"That I have come to the wrong man for advice."

There was a silence, broken only by the ticking of a clock and the
uneasy movements of Maine's fox-terrier, which was lying before the
empty grate and dreaming of departed fires.

At last Maine said: "To-day I asked Mrs Glinn to marry me."

The other started perceptibly. "Knowing what I have told you?" he asked.

"Not knowing it."

"What--what did she say?"

"Nothing. I am to see her to-morrow."

Lord Herbert glanced at him furtively. "I suppose you will not go--now?"
he said.

"Yes, Manning, I shall," Maine answered.

"Well," the other man continued, looking at his watch and yawning, "I
must be going. It's late. Glad to have seen you, Maine. I am to be found
at 80 St James's Place. Thanks; yes I will have my coat on. My pipe--oh!
here it is. Good-night."

The door closed, and Maine was left alone.

"Will she tell me to-morrow, or will she be silent?" he said to himself.
"That depends on one thing: Has love of truth the largest half of her
heart, or love of me?"

He sighed--at the conventionality of the world, perhaps.


III

"I am not at home to any one except Sir Hugh Maine," Mrs Glinn said to
the footman. "You understand?"

"Yes, ma'am."

He went out softly and closed the door.

The English summer had gone back upon its steps that afternoon, and
remembered the duty it owed to its old-time reputation. The canary, a
puffed-out ball of ragged-looking feathers in its cage, seemed listening
with a depressed attention to the beat of the cold rain against the
window. The daisies, in their boxes, dripped and nodded in the wind.
There was a darkness in the pretty room, and the smile of the china
goblins was no longer yellow. Like many people who are not made of
china, they depended upon adventitious circumstances for much of their
outward show. When they were not gilded there was a good deal of the
pill apparent in their nature.

Mrs Glinn was trying not to be restless. She was very pale, and her dark
eyes gleamed with an almost tragic fire; but she sat down firmly on the
white sofa, and read Gyp, as Carmen may have read her doom in the cards.
One by one the pages were turned. One by one the epigrams were made the
property of another mind. But through all the lightness and humour of
the story there crept like a little snake a sentence that Gyp had not
written:--

"Can I tell him?"

And no answer ever came to that question. When the door-bell at last
rang, Mrs Glinn laid down her novel carefully, and mechanically stood
up. A change of attitude was necessary to her.

Sir Hugh came in, and was followed by tea. They sat down by the tiny
table, and discussed French literature. Flaubert and Daudet go as well
with tea as Fielding and Smollett go with supper.

But, when the cups were put down, Maine drove the French authors in a
pack out of the conversation.

"I did not come here to say what I can say to every woman I meet who
understands French," he remarked.

And then Mrs Glinn was fully face to face with her particular guardian
devil.

"No?" she said.

She did not try to postpone the moment she dreaded. For she had a strong
man to deal with, and, being a strong woman at heart, she generally held
out her hand to the inevitable.

"You have been thinking?" Maine went on.

"Yes. What a sad occupation that is sometimes--like knitting, or
listening to church-bells at night!"

"Eve, let us be serious."

"God knows I am," she answered. "But modern gravity is dressed in
flippancy. No feeling must go quite naked."

"Don't talk like that," he said. "As there is a nudity in art that may
be beautiful, so there is a nudity in expression, in words, that may be
beautiful. Eve, I have come to hear you tell me something. You know
that." He glanced into her face with an anxiety that she did not fully
understand. Then he said: "Tell it me."

"There is--is so much to tell," she said.

"Yes, yes."

"He does not understand," she thought.

He thought, "She does not understand."

"And I am not good at telling stories."

"Then tell me the truth."

She tried to smile, but she was trembling. "Of course. Why should I
not?" She hesitated, and then added, with a forced attempt at petulance,
"But there is nothing so awkward as giving people more than they expect.
Is there?"

He understood her question, despite its apparent inconsequence, and his
heart quickened its beating: "Give me everything."

"I suppose I should be doing that if I gave you myself," she said
nervously.

"You know best," he answered; and for a moment she was puzzled by not
catching the affirmative for which she had angled.

"Do you want me very, very much?" she asked.

"So much that, as I told you yesterday, I could not ask for you twice.
Don't you understand?"

"Yes. I could not marry a man who had bothered me to be his wife. One
might as well be scolded into virtue. You want me, then, Hugh, and I
want you. But--"

Again she stopped, with sentences fluttering, as it seemed, on the very
edges of her lips. Her heart was at such fearful odds with her
conscience, that she felt as if he must hear the clashing of the swords.
And he did hear it. He would fain have cheered on both the combatants.
Which did he wish should be the conqueror? He hardly knew.

"Yes?" he said.

"It is always so difficult to finish a sentence that begins with 'but,'"
she began; and for the first time her voice sounded tremulous. "When two
people want each other very much, there is always something that ought
to keep them apart--at least, I think so. God must love solitude; it is
His gift to so many." There were tears in her eyes.

"Why should we keep apart, Eve?"

"Because we should be too happy together, I suppose."

He leaned suddenly forward and took both her hands in his. "How cold you
are!" he said, startled.

The words seemed to brace her like a sea-breeze.

"Hugh," she said, "I wish to tell you something. There is a 'but' in the
sentence of my life."

He drew her closer to him, with a strange impulse to be nearer the soul
that was about to prove itself as noble as he desired. But that very act
prevented the fulfilment of his wish. The touch of his hands, the
eagerness of his eyes, gave the victory to her heart. She shut the lips
that were speaking, and he kissed them. Kisses act as an opiate on a
woman's conscience. Only when Eve felt his lips on hers did she know her
own weakness. Sir Hugh having kissed her, waited for the telling of the
secret. At that moment he might as well have sat down and waited for the
millennium.

"What is it?" he said at last.

"Nothing," she answered, "nothing." She spoke the word with a hard
intonation.

Hugh held her close in his arms, with a sort of strange idea that to do
so would crush his disappointment. She was proving her love by her
silence. Why, then, did he wish that she should speak? At last she said,
in a low voice:--

"There is one thing you ought to know. If I marry you, I marry you a
beggar. I shall lose my fortune. I am not obliged to lose it, but I mean
to give it up. Don't ask me why."

He had no need to. He waited, but she was silent. So that was all. He
kissed her again, loosened his arms from about her and stood up.

"I have enough for both," he said.

He did not look at her, and she could not look at him.

"Are you going?" she said.

"Yes; but I will call this evening."

He was at the door, and had half-opened it when he turned back, moved by
a passionate impulse.

"Eve!" he cried, and his eyes seemed asking her for something.

"Yes?" she said, looking away.

There was a silence. Then he said "Good-bye!" The door closed upon him.

Mrs Glinn stood for a moment where he had left her. In her mind she was
counting the seconds that must elapse before he could reach the street.
If she could be untrue to herself till then, she could be untrue to
herself for ever. Would he walk down the stairs slowly or fast? She
wanted to be a false woman so much, so very much, that she clenched her
hands together. The action seemed as if it might help her to keep on
doing wrong. But suddenly she unclasped her hands, darted across the
room to the door, and opened it. She listened, and heard Hugh's
footsteps in the hall. He picked up his umbrella, and unfolded it to be
ready for the rain. The _frou-frou_ of the silk seemed to stir her to
action.

"Hugh!" she cried in a broken voice.

He turned in the hall, and looked up.

"Come back," she said.

He came up the stairs three steps at a time.

"Hugh," she said, leaning heavily on the balustrade, and looking away,
"I have a secret to tell you. I have tried to be wicked to-day, but
somehow I can't. Listen to the truth."

"I need not," he answered. "I know it already."

Then she looked at him, and drew in her breath: "You know it?"

"Yes."

"How you must love me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a ring at the hall door. The footman opened it, held a short
parley with some one who was invisible, shut the door, and came upstairs
with a card.

Mrs Glinn took it, and read, "Lord Herbert Manning."

He had decided to be unconventional too late.



A SILENT GUARDIAN


I

The door of the long, dreary room, with its mahogany chairs, its
littered table, its motley crew of pale, silent people, opened
noiselessly. A dreary, lean footman appeared in the aperture, bowing
towards a corner where, in a recess near a forlorn, lofty window, sat a
tall, athletic-looking man of about forty-five years of age, with a
strong yet refined face, clean shaven, and short, crisp, dark hair. The
tall man rose immediately, laying down an old number of _Punch_, and
made his way out, watched rather wolfishly by the other occupants of the
room. The door closed upon him, and there was a slight rustle and a hiss
of whispering.

Two well-dressed women leaned to one another, the feathers in their hats
almost mingling as they murmured: "Not much the matter with him, I
should fancy."

"He looks as strong as a horse; but modern men are always imagining
themselves ill. He has lived too much, probably."

They laughed in a suppressed ripple.

At the end of the room near the door, under the big picture of a grave
man in a frock-coat, holding a double eye-glass tentatively in his right
hand as if to emphasise an argument--a young girl bent towards her
father, who said to her in a low voice:

"That man who has just left the room is Brune, the great sculptor."

"Is he ill?" the girl asked.

"It seems so, since he is here."

Then a silence fell again, broken only by the rustle of turned pages and
the occasional uneasy shifting of feet.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, in a small room across the hall, by a window through which
the autumn sun streamed with a tepid brightness, Reginald Brune lay on a
narrow sofa. His coat and waistcoat were thrown open; his chest was
bared. Gerard Fane, the great discoverer of hidden diseases, raised
himself from a bent posture, and spoke some words in a clear, even
voice.

Brune lifted himself half up on his elbow, and began mechanically to
button the collar of his shirt. His long fingers did not tremble, though
his face was very pale.

He fastened the collar, arranged his loose tie, and then sat up slowly.

A boy, clanking two shining milk-cans, passed along the pavement,
whistling a music-hall song. The shrill melody died down the street, and
Brune listened to it until there was a silence. Then he looked up at
the man opposite to him, and said, as one dully protesting, without
feeling, without excitement:--

"But, doctor, I was only married three weeks ago."

Gerard Fane gave a short upward jerk of the head, and said nothing. His
face was calmly grave. His glittering brown eyes were fastened on his
patient. His hands were loosely folded together.

Brune repeated, in a sightly raised voice:--

"I was married three weeks ago. It cannot be true."

"I am here to tell the truth," the other replied.

"But it is so--so ironic. To allow me to start a new life--a beautiful
life--just as the night is coming. Why, it is diabolical; it is not
just; the cruelty of it is fiendish."

A spot of gleaming red stained each of the speaker's thin cheeks. He
clenched his hands together, riveting his gaze on the doctor, as he went
on:--

"Can't you see what I mean? I had no idea--I had not the faintest
suspicion of what you say. And I have had a very hard struggle. I have
been poor and quite friendless. I have had to fight, and I have lost
much of the good in my nature by fighting, as we often do. But at last I
have won the battle, and I have won more. I have won goodness to give
me back some of my illusions. I had begun to trust life again. I had--"

He stopped abruptly. Then he said:--

"Doctor, are you married?"

"No," the other answered; and there was a note of pity in his voice.

"Then you can't understand what your verdict means to me. Is it
irrevocable?"

Gerard Fane hesitated.

"I wish I could hope not; but--"

"But--?"

"It is."

Brune stood up. His face was quite calm now and his voice, when he spoke
again, was firm and vibrating.

"I have some work that I should wish to finish. How long can you give
me?"

"Three months."

"One will do if my strength keeps up at all. Good-bye."

There was a thin chink of coins grating one against the other. The
specialist said:--

"I will call on you to-morrow, between four and five. I have more
directions to give you. To-day my time is so much taken up. Good-bye."

The door closed.

In the waiting-room, a moment later, Brune was gathering up his coat and
hat.

The two ladies eyed him curiously as he took them and passed out.

"He does look a little pale, after all," whispered one of them. A
moment later he was in the street.

From the window of his consulting-room, Gerard Fane watched the tall
figure striding down the pavement.

"I am sorry that man is going to die," he said to himself.

And then he turned gravely to greet a new patient.


II

Gerard Fane's victoria drew up at the iron gate of No. 5 Ilbury Road,
Kensington, at a quarter past four the following afternoon. A narrow
strip of garden divided the sculptor's big red house from the road.
Ornamental ironwork on a brick foundation closed it in. The great
studio, with its huge windows and its fluted pillars, was built out at
one end. The failing sunlight glittered on its glass, and the dingy
sparrows perched upon the roof to catch the parting radiance as the
twilight fell. The doctor glanced round him and thought, "How hard this
man must have worked! In London this is a little palace."

"Will you come into the studio, sir, please?" said the footman in answer
to his summons. "Mr Brune is there at present."

"Surely he cannot be working," thought the doctor, as he followed the
man down a glass-covered paved passage, and through a high doorway
across which a heavy curtain fell. "If so, he must possess resolution
almost more than mortal."

He passed beyond the curtain, and looked round him curiously.

The studio was only dimly lit now, for daylight was fast fading. On a
great open hearth, with dogs, a log-fire was burning; and beside it, on
an old-fashioned oaken settle, sat a woman in a loose cream-coloured
tea-gown. She was half turning round to speak to Reginald Brune, who
stood a little to her left, clad in a long blouse, fastened round his
waist with a band. He had evidently recently finished working, for his
hands still bore evident traces of labour, and in front of him, on a
raised platform, stood a statue that was not far from completion. The
doctor's eyes were attracted from the woman by the log-fire, from his
patient, by the lifeless, white, nude figure that seemed to press
forward out of the gathering gloom. The sculptor and his wife had not
heard him announced, apparently, for they continued conversing in low
tones, and he paused in the doorway, strangely fascinated--he could
scarcely tell why--by the marble creation of a dying man.

The statue, which was life size, represented the figure of a beautiful,
grave youth, standing with one foot advanced, as if on the point of
stepping forward. His muscular arms hung loosely; his head was slightly
turned aside as in the attitude of one who listens for a repetition of
some vague sound heard at a distance. His whole pose suggested an alert,
yet restrained, watchfulness. The triumph of the sculptor lay in the
extraordinary suggestion of life he had conveyed into the marble. His
creature lived as many mollusc men never live. Its muscles seemed tense,
its body quivering with eagerness to accomplish--what? To attack, to
repel, to protect, to perform some deed demanding manfulness, energy,
free, fearless strength.

"That marble thing could slay if necessary," thought Gerard Fane, with a
thrill of the nerves all through him that startled him, and recalled him
to himself.

He stepped forward to the hearth quietly, and Brune turned and took him
by the hand.

"I did not hear you," the sculptor said. "The man must have opened the
door very gently. Sydney, this is Dr Gerard Fane, who is kindly looking
after me."

The woman by the fire had risen, and stood in the firelight and the
twilight, which seemed to join hands just where she was. She greeted the
specialist in a girl's young voice, and he glanced at her with the
furtive thought, "Does she know yet?"

She looked twenty-two, not more.

Her eyes were dark grey, and her hair was bronze. Her figure was thin
almost to emaciation; but health glowed in her smooth cheeks, and spoke
in her swift movements and easy gestures. Her expression was responsive
and devouringly eager. Life ran in her veins with turbulence, never with
calm. Her mouth was pathetic and sensitive, but there was an odd
suggestion of almost boyish humour in her smile.

Before she smiled, Fane thought, "She knows."

Afterwards, "She cannot know."

"Have you a few moments to spare?" Brune asked him. "Will you have tea
with us?"

Fane looked at Mrs Brune and assented. He felt a strange interest in
this man and this woman. The tragedy of their situation appealed to him,
although he lived in a measure by foretelling tragedies. Mrs Brune
touched an electric bell let into the oak-panelled wall, and her husband
drew a big chair forward to the hearth.

As he was about to sit down in it, Gerard Fane's eyes were again
irresistibly drawn towards the statue; and a curious fancy, born,
doubtless, of the twilight that invents spectres and of the firelight
that evokes imaginations, came to him, and made him for a moment hold
his breath.

It seemed to him that the white face menaced him, that the white body
had a soul, and that the soul cried out against him.

His hand trembled on the back of the chair. Then he laughed to himself
at the absurd fancy, and sat down.

"Your husband has been working?" he said to Mrs Brune.

"Yes, all the day. I could not tempt him out for even five minutes. But
then, he has had a holiday, as he says, although it was only a
fortnight. That was not very long for--for a honeymoon."

As she said the last sentence she blushed a little, and shot a swift,
half-tender, half-reproachful glance at her husband. But he did not meet
it; he only looked into the fire, while his brows slightly contracted.

"I think Art owns more than half his soul," the girl said, with the
flash of a smile. "He only gives to me the fortnights and to Art the
years."

There was a vague jealousy in her voice; but then the footman brought in
tea, and she poured it out, talking gaily.

From her conversation, Fane gathered that she had no idea of her
husband's condition. With a curious and fascinating naturalness she
spoke of her marriage, of her intentions for the long future.

"If Reginald is really seedy, Dr Fane," she said, "get him well quickly,
that he may complete his commissions. Because, you know, he has
promised, when they are finished, to take me to Italy, and to Greece, to
the country of Phidias, whose mantle has fallen upon my husband."

"Do not force Dr Fane into untruth," said Brune, with an attempt at a
smile.

"And is that statue a commission?" Fane asked, indicating the marble
figure, that seemed to watch them and to listen.

"No; that is an imaginative work on which I have long been engaged. I
call it, 'A Silent Guardian.'"

"It is very beautiful," the doctor said. "What is your idea exactly?
What is the figure guarding?"

Brune and his wife glanced at one another--he gravely, she with a
confident smile.

Then he said, "I leave that to the imagination."

Dr Fane looked again at the statue, and said slowly, "You have wrought
it so finely that in this light my nerves tell me it is alive."

Mrs Brune looked triumphant.

"All the world would feel so if they could see it," she said; "but it is
not to be exhibited. That is our fancy--his and mine. And now I will
leave you together for a few minutes. Heal him of his ills, Dr Fane,
won't you?"

She vanished through the door at the end of the studio. The two men
stood together by the hearth.

"She does not know?" Fane asked.

The other leaned his head upon his hand, which was pressed against the
oak mantelpiece.

"I am too cowardly to tell her," he said in a choked voice. "You must."

"And when?"

"To-day."

There was a silence. Then, in his gravest professional manner, Fane gave
some directions, and wrote others down, while the sculptor looked into
the dancing fire. When Fane had finished:--

"Shall I tell her now?" he asked gently.

Brune nodded without speaking. His face looked drawn and contorted as he
moved towards the door. His emotion almost strangled him, and the effort
to remain calm put a strain upon him that was terrible.

Gerard Fane was left alone for a moment--alone with the statue whose
personality, it seemed to him, pervaded the great studio. In its
attitude there was a meaning, in its ghost-like face and blind eyes a
resolution of intention, that took possession of his soul. He told
himself that it was lifeless, inanimate, pulseless, bloodless marble;
that it contained no heart to beat with love or hate, no soul to burn
with impulse or with agony; that its feet could never walk, its hands
never seize or slay, its lips never utter sounds of joy or menace. Then
he looked at it again, and he shuddered.

"I am over-working," he said to himself; "my nerves are beginning to
play me tricks. I must be careful."

And he forcibly turned his thoughts from the marble that could never
feel to the man and woman so tragically circumstanced, and to his
relation towards them.

A doctor is so swiftly plunged into intimacy with strangers. To the
sculptor it was as if Fane held the keys of the gates of life and death
for him; as if, during that quarter of an hour in the consulting-room,
the doctor had decided, almost of his own volition, that death should
cut short a life of work and of love. And even to Fane himself it seemed
as if his fiat had precipitated, even brought about, a tragedy that
appealed to his imagination with peculiar force. His position towards
this curiously interesting girl was strange. He had seen her for a
quarter of an hour only, and now it was his mission to cause her the
most weary pain that she might, perhaps, ever know. The opening of the
studio door startled him, and his heart, that usually beat so calmly,
throbbed almost with violence as Mrs Brune came up to him.

"What is it?" she asked, facing him, and looking him full in the eyes
with a violence of interrogation that was positively startling. "What is
it you have to tell me? Reginald says you have ordered him to keep
quiet--that you wish me to help you in--in something. Is he ill? May he
not finish his commissions?"

"He is ill," said Gerard Fane, with a straightforward frankness that
surprised himself.

She kept her eyes on his face.

"Very ill?"

"Sit down," the doctor said, taking her hands and gently putting her
into a chair.

With the rapidity of intellect peculiar to women, she heard in those
two words the whole truth. Her head drooped forward. She put out her
hands as if to implore Fane's silence.

"Don't speak," she murmured. "Don't say it; I know."

He looked away. His eyes rested on the statue that made a silent third
in their sad conference. How its attitude suggested that of a stealthy
listener, bending to hear the more distinctly! Its expressionless eyes
met his, and was there not a light in them? He knew there was not, yet
he caught himself saying mentally:--

"What does he think of this?" and wondering about the workings of a soul
that did not, could not, exist.

Presently the girl moved slightly, and said:--

"He only knew this for certain yesterday?"

"Only yesterday."

"Ah! but he must have suspected it long ago,"--she pointed towards the
statue--"when he began that."

"I don't understand," Fane said. "What can that marble have to do with
his health or illness?"

"When we first began to love each other," she said, "he began to work on
that. It was to be his marriage gift to me, my guardian angel. He told
me he would put all his soul into it, and that sometimes he fancied, if
he died before me, his soul would really enter into that statue and
watch over and guard me. 'A Silent Guardian' he has always called it.
He must have known."

"I do not think so," Fane said. "It was impossible he should."

The girl stood up. The tears were running over her face now. She turned
towards the statue.

"And he will be cold--cold like that!" she cried in a heart-breaking
voice. "His eyes will be blind and his hands nerveless, and his voice
silent."

She suddenly swayed and fainted into Fane's arms. He held her a moment;
and when he laid her down, a reluctance to let the slim form, lifeless
though it was, slip out of his grasp, came upon him. He remembered the
previous day, the doomed man going down the street--his thought as he
looked from the window of his consulting-room, "I am sorry that man is
going to die."

Now, as he leant over the white girl, he whispered, forming the very
words with his lips, "I am not sorry."

And the statue seemed to bend and to listen.


III

Six weeks passed away. Winter was deepening. Through the gloom and fog
that shrouded London, Christmas approached, wrapped in seasonable snow.
The dying man had finished his work, and a strange peace stole over
him. Now, when he suffered, when his body shivered and tried to shrink
away, as if it felt the cold hands of death laid upon it, he looked at
the completed statue, and found he could still feel joy. There had
always been in his highly-strung, sensitive nature an element, so
fantastic that he had ever striven to conceal it, of romance; and in his
mind, affected by constant pain, by many sleepless nights, grew the
curious idea that his life, as it ebbed away from him, entered into his
creation. As he became feeble, he imagined that the man he had formed
towered above him in more God-like strength, that light flowed into the
sightless eyes, that the marble muscles were tense with vigour, that a
soul was born in the thing which had been soulless. The theory, held by
so many, of re-incarnation upon earth, took root in his mind, and he
came to believe that, at the moment of death, he would pass into his
work and live again, unconscious, it might be, of his former existence.
He loved the statue as one might love a breathing man; but he seldom
spoke of his fancies, even to Sydney.

Only, he sometimes said to her, pointing to his work:--

"You will never be alone, unprotected, while he is there."

And she tried to smile through the tears she could not always keep back.

Gerard Fane was often with them. He sunk the specialist in the friend,
and not a day passed without a visit from him to the great studio, in
which the sculptor and his wife almost lived.

He was unwearied in his attendance upon the sick man, unwavering in his
attempts to soothe his sufferings. But, in reality, and almost against
his will, the doctor numbered each breath his patient drew, noted with a
furious eagerness each sign of failing vitality, bent his ear to catch
every softest note in the prolonged _diminuendo_ of this human symphony.

When Fane saw Mrs Brune leaning over her husband, touching the damp brow
with her cool, soft fingers, or the dry, parched lips with her soft,
rosy lips, he turned away in a sick fury, and said to himself:--

"He is dying, he is dying. It will soon be over."

For with a desperate love had entered into him a desperate jealousy, and
even while he ministered to Brune he hated him.

And the statue, with blind eyes, observed the drama enacted by those
three people, the two men and the woman, till the curtain fell and one
of the actors made his final exit.

Fane's nerves still played him tricks sometimes. He could not look at
the statue without a shudder; and while Brune imaginatively read into
the marble face love and protection, the doctor saw there menace and
hatred. He came to feel almost jealous of the statue, because Sydney
loved it and fell in with her husband's fancy that his life was fast
ebbing into and vitalising the marble limbs, that his soul would watch
her from the eyes that were now without expression and thought.

When Fane entered the studio, he always involuntarily cast a glance at
the white figure--at first, a glance of shuddering distaste, then, as he
acknowledged to himself his love for Sydney, a glance of defiance, of
challenge.

One evening, after a day of many appointments and much mental stress and
strain, he drove up to Ilbury Road, was admitted, and shown as usual
into the studio. He found it empty. Only the statue greeted him silently
in the soft lamplight, that scarcely accomplished more than the defining
of the gloom.

"My master is upstairs, sir," said the footman. "I will tell him you are
here."

In a moment Sydney entered, with a lagging step and pale cheeks. Without
thinking of the usual polite form of greeting, she said to Fane, "He is
much worse to-day. There is a change in him, a horrible change. Dr Fane,
just now when I was talking to him it seemed to me that he was a long
way off. I caught hold of his hands to reassure myself. I held them. I
heard him speaking, but it was as if his words came from a distance.
What does it mean? He is not--he is not--"

She looked the word he could not speak.

Fane made her sit down.

"I will go to him immediately," he said. "I may be able to do
something."

"Yes, go--do go!" she exclaimed with feverish excitement.

Then suddenly she sprang up, and seizing his hands with hers, she said
in a piercing voice: "You are a great doctor. Surely--surely you can
keep this one life for me a little longer."

As they stood, Fane was facing the statue, which was at her back, and
while she spoke his eyes were drawn from the woman he loved to the
marble thing he senselessly hated. It struck him that a ghastly change
had stolen over it. A sudden flicker of absolute life surely infused it,
quickened it even while she spoke, stole through the limbs one by one,
welled up to the eyes as light pierces from a depth, flowed through all
the marble. A pulse beat in the dead, cold heart. A mind rippled into
the rigid, watching face. There was no absolute movement, and yet there
was the sense of stir. Fane, absorbed in horror, seemed to watch an act
of creation, to see life poured from some invisible and unknown source
into the bodily chamber that had been void and dark.

Motionless he saw the statue dead; motionless he saw the statue live.

He drew his hands from Sydney's. He was too powerfully impressed to
speak, but she looked up into his face, turned, and followed his eyes.

She, too, observed the change, for her lips parted, and a wild
amazement shone in her eyes. Then she touched Fane's arm, and whispered,
rather in awe than in horror, "Go--go to him. See if anything has
happened. I will stay and watch here."

With a hushed tread Fane left the studio, passed through the hall,
ascended the stairs to the sculptor's room. Outside the door he
hesitated for a moment. He was trembling. He heard a clock ticking
within. It sounded very loud, like a hammer beating in his ears. He
pushed the door open at length, and entered. Brune's tall figure was
sitting in an armchair, bowed over a table on which lay an open Art
magazine.

His head lay hidden on his arms, which were crossed.

Fane raised the face and turned it up towards him.

It was the face of a dead man.

He looked at it, and smiled.

Then he stole down again to the studio, where Sydney was still standing.

"Yes?" she said interrogatively, as he entered.

"He is dead," Fane answered.

She only bowed her head, as if in assent. She stood a moment, then she
turned her tearless eyes to him, and said:--

"Why could not you save him?"

"Because I am human," Fane answered.

"And we did not say good-bye," she said.

Fane was strung up. Conflicting feelings found a wild playground in his
soul. His nerves were in a state of abnormal excitement, and something
seemed to let go in him--the something that holds us back, normally,
from mad follies. He suddenly caught Sydney's hand, and in a choked
voice said:--

"He is dead. Think a little of the living."

She looked at him, wondering.

"Think of the living that love you. He neither hates nor loves any more.
Sydney! Sydney!"

As she understood his meaning she wrung her hand out of his, and said,
as one trying to clear the road for reason:--

"You love me, and he bought you to keep him alive. Why, then--"

A sick, white change came over her face.

"Sydney! Sydney!" he said.

"Why, then he bought death from you. Ah!"

She put her hand on the bell, and kept it there till the servant hurried
in.

"Show Dr Fane out," she said. "He will not come here again."

And Fane, seeing the uselessness of protest, ready to strike himself for
his folly, went without a word. Only, as he went, he cast one look at
the statue. Was there not the flicker of a smile in its marble eyes?


IV

People said Dr Gerard Fane was over-working, that he was not himself.
His manner to patients was sometimes very strange, brusque, impatient,
intolerant. A brutality stole over him, and impressed the world that
went to him for healing very unfavourably. The ills of humanity rendered
him now sarcastic instead of pitiful, a fatal attitude of mind for a
physician to adopt; and he was even known to pronounce on sufferers
sentence of death with a callous indifference that was inhuman as well
as impolitic. As the weeks went by, his reception-room became less
crowded than of old. There were even moments in his day when he had
leisure to sit down and think, to give a rein to his mood of impotent
misery and despair. Sydney had never consented to receive him again.
Woman-like--for she could be extravagantly yet calmly unreasonable--she
had clung to the idea that Fane had hastened, if not actually brought
about, her husband's death by his treatment. She made no accusation. She
simply closed her doors upon him. She had a horror of him, which never
left her.

Again and again Fane called. She was always denied to him. Then he met
her in the street. She cut him. He spoke to her. She passed on without a
reply. At last a dull fury took possession of him. Her treatment of him
was flagrantly unjust. He had wished the sculptor to die, but he had
allowed nature to accomplish her designs unaided, even to some extent
hampered and hindered by his medical skill and care. He loved Sydney
with the violence of a man whose emotions had been sedulously repressed
through youth, vanquished but not killed by ambition, and the need to
work for the realisation of that ambition. The tumults of early manhood,
never given fair play, now raged in his breast, from which they should
have been long since expelled, and played havoc with every creed of
sense, and every built-up theory of wisdom and experience. Fane became
by degrees a monomaniac.

He brooded incessantly over his developed but starved passion, over the
thought that Sydney chose to believe him a murderer. At first, when he
was trying day after day to see her, he clung to his love for her; but
when he found her obdurate, set upon wronging him in her thought, his
passion, verging towards despair, changed, and was coloured with hatred.
By degrees he came to dwell more upon the injury done to him by her
suspicion than upon his love of her, and then it was that a certain
wildness crept into his manner, and alarmed or puzzled those who
consulted him.

That his career was going to the dogs Fane understood, but he did not
care. The vision of Sydney was always before him. He was for ever
plotting and planning to be with her alone--against her will or not, it
was nothing to him. And when he was alone with her, what then?

He would know how to act.

It was just in the dawn of the spring season over London that further
inaction became insupportable to him. One evening, after a day of
listless inactivity spent in waiting for the patients who no longer came
in crowds to his door, he put on his hat and walked from Mayfair to
Kensington, vaguely, yet with intention. He looked calm, even absent;
but he was a desperate man. All fear of what the world thinks or says,
all consideration of outward circumstances and their relation to worldly
happiness, had died within him. He was entirely abstracted and
self-centred.

He reached the broad thoroughfare of Ilbury Road, with its line of
artistic red houses, detached and standing in their gardens. The
darkness was falling as he turned into it and began to walk up and down
opposite the house with the big studio in which he was once a welcome
visitor. There was a light in one of the bedroom windows and in the
hall, and presently, as Fane watched, a brougham drove up to the door.
It waited a few moments before the house, then some one entered the
carriage. The door was banged; the horse moved on. Through the windows
Fane saw a woman's face, pale, against the pane. It was the face of
Sydney. For a moment he thought he would call to the coachman to stop.
Then he restrained himself, and again walked up and down, waiting. She
must return presently. He would speak to her as she was getting out of
the carriage. He would force her to receive him.

Towards nine o'clock his plans were altered by an event which took
place. The house door opened, and the footman came out with a handful of
letters for the post. The pillar-box was very near, and the man
carelessly left the hall door on the jar while he walked down the road.
Fane caught a glimpse of the hall that he knew so well. A step, and he
could be in the house. He hesitated. He looked down the road. The man
had his back turned, and was putting the letters into the box. Fane
slipped into the garden, up the steps, through the door. The hall was
empty. At his right was the passage leading to the studio. He stole down
it, and tried the door. It opened. In the darkness the heavy curtain
blew against his face. In another instant he closed the door softly at
his back, and stood alone in the wide space and the blackness. Here
there was not a glimmer of light. Thick curtains fell over the windows.
No fire burned upon the hearth. There was no sound except when a
carriage occasionally rolled down the road, and even then the wheels
sounded distant.

The silence and darkness had their effect upon Fane. He had done a
desperate thing; but, until he found himself alone in the vacant
studio, he had not fully realised the madness of his conduct, and how it
would appear to the world. After the first moments of solitude had
passed he came to himself a little, and half opened the door with the
intention of stealing out; but he heard steps in the hall, and shrank
back again like a guilty creature. He must wait, at least, until the
household retired to rest.

And, waiting, the old, haunting thoughts came back to assail him once
more. He began to brood over Sydney's cruel treatment of him, over her
vile suspicions. Here, in the atmosphere which he knew so well--for a
faint, strange perfume always lingered about the studio, and gave to it
the subtle sense of life which certain perfumes can impart--his emotions
were gradually quickened to fury. He recalled the days of his intimacy
with the sculptor, of his unrestrained converse with Sydney. He recalled
his care for the invalid, persevered in, despite his passion, to the
end. And then his thought fastened upon the statue, which, strange to
say, he had almost forgotten.

The statue!

It must be there, with him, in the darkness, staring with those white
eyes in which he had seen a soul flicker.

As the recollection of it came to him, he trembled, leaning against the
wall.

He was in one of those states of acute mental tension in which the mind
becomes so easily the prey of the wildest fantasies, and slowly,
laboriously, he began to frame a connection between the lifeless marble
creature and his own dreary trouble.

Because of one moment of folly Sydney treated him as a pariah, as a
criminal. Her gentle nature had been transformed suddenly.

By what subtle influence?

Fane remembered the day of his first visit to Ilbury Road, and his
curious imagination that the statue recognised and hated him.

Had that hatred prompted action? Was there a devil lurking in the white,
cold marble to work his ruin? When Sydney sent him out of her presence
for ever, the watching face had seemed to smile.

Fane set his teeth in the darkness. He was no longer sane. He was
possessed. The tragedy of thought within him invited him to the
execution of another tragedy. He stretched out his hand with the
rehearsing action of one meditating a blow.

His hand fell upon an oak table that stood against the wall, and hit on
something smooth and cold. It was a long Oriental dagger that the dead
sculptor had brought from the East. Fane's fingers closed on it
mechanically. The frigid steel thrilled his hot palm, and a pulse in his
forehead started beating till there was a dull, senseless music in his
ears that irritated him.

He wanted to listen for the return of Sydney's carriage.

His soul was ablaze with defiance. He was alone in the darkness with his
enemy; the cold, deadly, blind, pulseless thing that yet was alive; the
silent thing that had yet whispered malign accusations of him to the
woman he loved; the nerveless thing that poisoned a beautiful mind
against him, that stole the music from his harp of life and let loose
the winds upon his summer.

His fingers closed more tightly, more feverishly upon the slippery
steel.

Sydney actually thought, or strove to think, him a criminal. What if he
should earn the title? A sound as of the sea beating was in his ears,
and flashes of strange light seem to leap to his vision. What would a
man worth the name do to his enemy?

And he and his enemy were shut up alone together.

He drew himself up straight and steadied himself against the wall,
peering through the blackness in the direction of the statue.

And, as he did so, there seemed to steal into the atmosphere the breath
of another living presence. He could fancy he heard the pulse of another
heart beating near to his. The sensation increased upon him powerfully
until suspicion grew into conviction.

His intention had subtly communicated itself to the thing he could not
see.

He knew it was on guard.

There was no actual sound, no movement, but the atmosphere became
charged by degrees with a deadly, numbing cold, like the breath of frost
in the air. A chill ran through Fane's blood. A sluggish terror began to
steal over him, folding him for the moment in a strange inertia of mind
and of body. A creeping paralysis crawled upon his senses, like the
paralysis of nightmare that envelops the dreamer. He opened his lips to
speak, but they chattered soundlessly. Mechanically his hand clutched
the thin, sharp steel of the dagger.

His enemy--then Sydney.

He would not be a coward. He struggled against the horror that was upon
him.

And still the cold increased, and the personality of Fane's invisible
companion seemed to develop in power. There was a sort of silent
violence in the hidden room, as if a noiseless combat were taking place.
Waves of darkness were stirred into motion; and Fane, as a man is drawn
by the retreating tides of the sea out and away, was drawn from the wall
where he had been crouching.

He stole along the floor, the dagger held in his right hand, his heart
barely beating, his lips white--nearer, nearer to his enemy.

He counted each step, until he was enfolded in the inmost circle of that
deadly frost emanating from the blackness before him.

Then, with a hoarse cry, he lifted his arm and sprang forward and
upward, dashing the dagger down as one plunging it through a human
heart.

The cry died suddenly into silence.

There was the sound of a heavy fall.

It reached the ears of the servants below stairs.

The footman took a light, and, with a scared face, went hesitatingly to
the studio door, paused outside and listened while the female servants
huddled in the passage.

The heavy silence succeeding the strange sound appalled them, but at
length the man thrust the door open and peered in.

The light from the candle flickered merrily upon Fane's bowed figure,
huddled face downwards upon the floor.

His neck was broken.

The statue, that was the dead sculptor's last earthly achievement, stood
as if watching over him. But it was no longer perfect and complete.

Some splinters of marble had been struck from the left breast, and among
them, on the smooth parquet, lay a bent Oriental dagger.



A BOUDOIR BOY


I

"It is so impossible to be young," Claude Melville said very wearily,
and with his little air of played-out indifference. He was smoking a
cigarette, as always, and wore a dark red smoking-suit that, he thought,
went excellently with his black eyes and swarthy complexion.

His father had been a blue-eyed Saxon giant, his mother a pretty Kentish
woman, with an apple-blossom complexion and sunny hair; yet he managed
to look exquisitely Turkish, and thought himself a clever boy for so
doing. But then he always thought himself clever. He had cultivated this
conception of himself until it had become a confirmed habit of mind. On
his head was a fez with a tassel, and he was sitting upon the hearthrug
with his long legs crossed meditatively. His room was dimly lit, and had
an aspect of divans, Attar of roses scented the air. A fire was burning,
although it was a spring evening and not cold. London roared faintly in
the distance, like a lion at a far-away evening party.

"It is so impossible to be young," Claude repeated, without emphasis. "I
was middle-aged at ten. Now I am twenty-two, and have done everything I
ought not to have done, I feel that life has become altogether
improbable. Even if I live until I am seventy--the correct age for
entering into one's dotage, I believe--I cannot expect to have a second
childhood. I have never had a first."

He sighed. It seemed so hard to be deprived of one's legal dotage.

His friend, Jimmy Haddon, looked at him and laughed. Jimmy was puffing
at a pipe. His pipe was the only one Claude ever allowed to be smoked
among his divans and his roses.

After thoroughly completing his laugh, Jimmy remarked:--

"Would you like to take a lesson in the art of being young?"

"Immensely."

"I know somebody who could give you one."

"Really, Jimmy! What strange people you always know; curates, and women
who have never written improper novels, and all sorts of beings who seem
merely mythical to the rest of us!"

"This is not a curate."

"Then it must be a woman who has never written an improper novel."

"It is."

"And you mean to tell me seriously that there is such a person? To see
her would be to take what _Punch_ calls a pre-historic peep. She must be
ingeniously old."

"She is sixty-four, and she is my aunt."

"How beautiful of her. I am an only child, so I can never be an uncle.
It is one of my lasting regrets, although I daresay that profession is
terribly overcrowded like the others. But why is she sixty-four? It
seems a risky thing for a woman to be?"

"She takes the risk without thinking at all about it."

"She must be very daring."

"No; she's only completely natural."

"Natural. What is that?"

Jimmy laughed again. He was fond of Claude, but he and Claude met so
often chiefly because they were extremes. Jimmy was a handsome athlete,
who had been called to the bar, and persistently played cricket or
football whenever the courts were sitting. He was cursed with a large
private income, which he spent royally, and blessed with a good heart.
Once he had appeared for the defence in a divorce case, which--lasting
longer than he had anticipated, owing to the obvious guilt of all
parties concerned in it, and the consequent difficulty of getting an
innocent jury to agree about a verdict--had cost him a cricket match.
Since then he had looked upon the law in the legendary way, as an ass,
and spent most of his time in exercising his muscles. In the intervals
of leisure which he allowed himself from sports and pastimes, he saw a
good deal of Claude, who amused him, and whom he never bored. He called
him a boudoir boy, but had a real liking for him, nevertheless, and
sometimes longed to wake him up, and separate him from the absurd
_chiffons_ with which he occupied his time. Now he laughed at him
openly, and Claude did not mind in the least. They were really friends,
however preposterous such a friendship might seem.

"What is that? Well--my aunt. When you see her you will understand
thoroughly."

"Does she live in Park Lane or in Clapham?"

"She lives in the country, in Northamptonshire, is very well off, and
has a place of her own."

"And a husband?"

"No. She is a prosperous spinster, dines the local cricket team once a
year, keeps the church going, knows all the poor people, and all the
rich in the neighbourhood, and has only one fad."

"What is that?"

"She always wears her hair powdered. Come down and stay with her, and
she will teach you to be young."

"Well--but I am afraid she will work me very hard."

"Not she. You would like a new experience."

Claude yawned, and blinked his long dark eyes in a carefully Eastern
manner.

"I am afraid there is no such thing left for me," he said with an
elaborate dreariness. "Still, if your aunt will invite me, I will come.
Of course you will accompany me, I must have a chaperon."

"Of course."

"Ah!" Claude said, as a footman came softly into the room, "here is our
absinthe. Now, Jimmy, please do forget your horrible football, and I
will teach you to be decadent."

"As my aunt will teach you to be young--you old boy."


II

"Mr Haddon has left, sir," said the footman, standing by Claude's
bedside in the detached manner of the well-bred domestic. "Here is a
note for you, sir; I was to give it you the first thing."

And he handed it on a salver.

Claude stretched out his thin white arm and took it, without manifesting
any of the surprise that he felt. When the footman had gone, he poured
out a cup of tea from the silver teapot that stood on a small table at
his elbow, sipped it, and quietly opened the square envelope. The
Northamptonshire sun was pouring in with a countrified ardour through
the bedroom window. Outside the birds twittered in Miss Haddon's
cherished garden. For Claude had come down at that contented spinster's
invitation to spend a week with her, bringing Jimmy as chaperon, and
this was the very first morning of his visit. Now he learnt that his
chaperon had already "left," possibly to be a "half-back," or something
equally ridiculous, at a local football match in a neighbouring
village. Claude spread the note out and read it, while the birds chirped
to the very manifest spring.

   "DEAR BOY,--Good-bye, and good luck to you. I know you are
   never angry, so it is scarcely worth while to tell you not to
   be. I am off. Back in a week. You will learn your lesson
   better alone with Aunt Kitty. There is no absinthe in her
   cellar, but she knows good champagne from bad. You will be all
   right. Study hard.--Yours ever,

                                                       JIM."

Claude drank two cups of tea instead of his usual one, and read the note
four times. Then he lay back, wrapping his dressing-gown--a fine
specimen of Cairene embroidery--closely round him, shut his eyes, and
seemed to go to sleep. All he said to himself was:--

"Jimmy writes a very dull letter."

At half-past nine, Miss Haddon's house reverberated in a hollow manner
with the barbarous music of a gong, the dressing-gong. Claude heard it
very unsympathetically, and felt rather inclined merely to take off his
dressing-gown, as an act of mute defiance, and go deliberately to sleep,
instead of getting up and putting things on. But he remembered his
manners wearily, and slid out of bed and into a carefully-warmed bath
that was prepared in the neighbouring dressing-room. Having completed an
intricate toilette, and tied a marvellously subtle tie, shot with
rigorously subdued, but voluptuous colours, he sauntered downstairs in
time to be thoroughly immersed in the full clamour of the second--or
breakfast--gong, which he encountered in the hall.

"Why will people wake the dead merely because they are going to eat a
boiled egg and a bit of toast?" he asked himself as he entered the
breakfast-room.

Miss Haddon was standing by the window, reading letters in the proper
English manner. The sun lay on her grey hair, which she wore dressed
high, and void of cap.

"You are very punctual," she said with a smile. "I was going to send up
to know whether you would prefer to breakfast in your room. My nephew
told me you might like to. I shall be glad to have your company. Jimmy
has run away and left us together, I find."

"Yes, Jimmy has run away," Claude answered, beginning slowly to feel the
full force of Jimmy's perfidy. He looked at Miss Haddon's cheerful, rosy
face, and bright brown eyes, and wondered whether she had been in the
plot.

"I hope you will not be bored," Miss Haddon went on, as they sat down
together, the intonation of her melodious elderly voice seeming to
dismiss the supposition, even while she suggested it. "But, indeed, I
think it is almost impossible to be bored in the country."

Claude, who was always either in London or Paris, looked frankly
astonished. In handing him his cup of tea, Miss Haddon noticed it.

"You don't agree with me?" she asked.

"I cannot disagree, at least," he said; "because, to tell the truth, I
am always in towns."

"Probably you are happy there then," she rejoined, with a briskness that
was agreeable, because it was not a hideous assumption, like the
geniality that often prevails, fitfully, at Christmas time.

But Claude could not permit his hostess to remain comfortable in this
utterly erroneous belief.

"Oh, please--" he said, with gentle rebuke, "I am not happy anywhere."

Miss Haddon glanced at him with a gay and whimsical, but decidedly
acute, scrutiny.

"Perhaps you are too young to be happy," she said; "you have not
suffered enough."

"I have never been young," he answered, eating his devilled kidney with
a silent pathos of perseverance--"never."

"And I shall never be old, or, at any rate, feel old. It can't be done.
I'm sixty-four, and look it, but I can't cease to revel in details, take
an interest in people, and regard life as my half-opened oyster. It is a
pity one can't go on living till one is two or three hundred or so.
There is so much to see and know. Our existence in the world is like a
day at the Stores. We have to go away before we have been into a
quarter of the different departments."

"I don't find life at all like that. I have seen all the departments
till I am sick of them. But perhaps you never come to London?"

"Every year for three months to see my friends. I stay at an hotel. It
is a most delightful time."

Her tone was warm with pleasant memories. Claude felt himself more and
more surprised.

"You enjoy the country, and London?" he said.

"I enjoy everything," said Miss Haddon. "And surely most people do."

"None of the people I know seem to enjoy anything very much. They try
everything, of course. That is one's duty."

"Then the latest literature really reflects life, I imagine," Miss
Haddon said. "If what you say is true, everything includes the sins as
well as the virtues. I have often wondered whether the books that I have
thought utterly and absurdly false could possibly be the outcome of
facts."

"Such as what books?"

"Oh, I'll name no names. The authors may be your personal friends. But
it is so then? In their search after happiness the people of to-day, the
moderns, give the warm shoulder to vice as well as to virtue?"

"They ignore nothing."

"Not even duty?"

"Our duty is to ourselves, and can never be ignored."

Miss Haddon tapped a boiled egg very sharply on its head with a spoon.
She wondered if the action were a performance of duty to herself or to
the egg.

"That, I understand," she remarked briskly, "is the doctrine of what is
called in London the young decadent; and in the country--forgive
me--sometimes the young devil of the day."

"I am decadent, Miss Haddon," Claude said with a gentle pride that was
not wholly ungraceful.

The elderly lady swept him with a bright look of fresh and healthy
interest.

"How exciting," she exclaimed, after a moment's decisive pause, but with
a completely natural air. "You are the first I have seen. For Jimmy
isn't one, is he?"

"Jimmy! No. He plays football, and eats cold roast beef and cheese for
lunch."

"Do tell me--how does one do it?"

She seemed intensely interested, and was merrily munching an apple grown
in one of her own orchards.

Claude raised his dark eyebrows.

"I beg your pardon?"

"How does one become a decadent? I have heard so much about you all,
about your cleverness, and your clothes, and the things you write, and
draw, and smoke, and think, and--and eat--"

She seemed suddenly struck by a bright idea.

"Oh, Mr Melville!" she exclaimed, leaning forward behind the great
silver urn, and darting at him a glance of imploring earnestness, "will
you do me a favour? We are left to ourselves for a whole week. Teach me,
teach me to be a decadent."

"But I thought you were going to teach me to be yo--" Claude began, and
stopped just in time. "I mean--er--"

He paused, and they gazed at each other. There was meditation in the
boy's eyes. He was wondering seriously whether it would be possible for
an elderly spinster lady, of countrified morals and rural procedure, to
be decadent. She was rather stout, too, and appeared painfully healthy.

"Will you?" Miss Haddon breathed across the urn and the teapot.

"Well, we might try," Claude answered doubtfully.

He was remarking to himself:--

"Poor, dear Jimmy! He certainly doesn't understand his aunt!"

She was murmuring in her mind: "I have always heard they have no sense
of humour!"


III

"Mr Melville, Mr Melville," cried Miss Haddon's voice towards evening on
the following day, "the absinthe has arrived!"

Claude came out languidly into the hall.

"Has it?" he said dreamily.

"Yes, and Paul Verlaine's poetry, and the blue books--I mean the yellow
books, and" (rummaging in a just-opened parcel) "yes, here are two
novels by Catulle Mendez, and a box of those rose-tipped cigarettes.
Now, what ought I to do? Shall we have some absinthe instead of our tea,
or what?"

Claude looked at her with a momentary suspicion, but her grey hair
crowned an eager face decorated with an honest expression. The suspicion
was lulled to rest.

"We had better have our tea," he answered slowly. "I like my absinthe
about an hour or so before dinner."

"Very well. Tea, James, and muffins."

The butler retired with fat dignity, but wondering not a little at the
unusual vagaries of his mistress. Miss Haddon and Claude, laden with
books, repaired to the drawing-room and sat down by the fire. Claude
placed himself, cross-legged, upon a cushion on the floor. The box of
rose-tipped cigarettes was in his hand. Miss Haddon regarded him
expectantly from her sofa. Her expression seemed continually exclaiming,
"What's to be done now?"

The boy felt that this was not right, and endeavoured gently to correct
it.

"Please try to be a little--a--"

"Yes?"

"A little more restrained," he said. "What we feel about life is that it
should never be crude. All extremes are crude."

"What--even extremes of wickedness?"

He hesitated.

"Well, certainly extremes of goodness, or happiness, or anything of that
kind. When one comes to think of it seriously, happiness is really
absurd, is it not? Just consider how preposterous what is called a happy
face always looks, covered with those dreadful, wrinkled things named
smiles, all the teeth showing, and so on. I know you agree with me.
Happiness drives all thought out of a face, and distorts the features in
a most painful manner. When I go out walking on a Bank Holiday, a thing
I seldom do, I always think a cheerful expression the most degrading of
all expressions. A contented clerk disfigures a whole street--really."

Miss Haddon's appearance had gradually grown very sombre during this
speech, and she did not brighten up on the approach of tea and muffins
on a wicker table whimsical with little shelves.

"Perhaps you are right," she said. "I daresay happiness is
unreasonable. Ought I to sit on the floor too?"

Claude deprecated such an act on the part of his hostess. Sitting on the
floor was one of his pet originalities, and he hated rivalry. Besides,
Miss Haddon was distinctly too stout for that sort of thing.

"I do it because I feel so Turkish," he explained. "Otherwise, it would
be an assumption, and not naïve. People make a great mistake in fancying
the decadent is unnatural. If anything, he is too natural. He follows
his whim. The world only calls us natural when we do everything we
dislike. If Rossetti had played football every Saturday, his poetry
would have been much more read in England than it has been. Yes, please,
I will have another muffin."

"But I think I feel Turkish too," Miss Haddon said calmly. "Yes, I am
sure I do. I ought not to resist it; ought I? Otherwise I shall be
flying in the face of your beautiful theories." And she squatted down on
the floor at his elbow.

Claude had a wonderful purple moment of acute irritation, during which
he felt strangely natural. Miss Haddon did not appear to notice it. She
went on bombarding him with questions in a cheery manner until he began
to be rather ill, but her face never lost its expression of grave
sadness, a strange, inexplicable melancholy that was not in the least
Bank Holiday. The contrast between her expression and her voice worried
Claude, as an intelligent pantaloon might worry a clown. He felt that
something was wrong. Either face or voice required alteration. And then
questions are like death--extremely irksome. Besides, he found it
difficult to answer many of them, difficult to define precisely the
position of the decadent, his intentions and his aims. It was no use to
tell Miss Haddon that he didn't possess either the one or the other.
Always with the same definitely sad face, the same definitely cheerful
voice, she declined to believe him. He fidgeted on his cushion, and his
Turkish placidity threatened to be seriously disturbed.

The appearance of the absinthe created a diversion. Claude arranged a
glass of it, much diluted with water, for the benefit of his hostess,
and she began to sip it with an air of determined reverence.

"It tastes like the smell of a drag hunt," she said after a while.

Claude's gently-lifted eyebrows proclaimed misapprehension.

"When they drag a trail over a course and satisfy the hounds with a dead
rabbit at the end of it," she explained.

"My dear lady," he protested plaintively. "Really, you do not grasp the
inner meaning of what you are drinking. Presently the most perfect
sensation will steal over you, a curious happy detachment from
everything, as if you were floating in some exquisite element. You will
not care what happens, or what--"

"But must I drink it all before I feel detached?" she asked. "It's
really so very nasty, quite disgusting to the taste. Surely you think
so."

"I drink it for its after-effect."

"Is it like a good act that costs us pain at the moment, and gives us
the pleasure of self-satisfaction ultimately?"

"I don't know," the boy exclaimed abruptly. To compare absinthe to a
good act seemed to him quite intolerable.

He let his rose-tipped cigarette go out, and was glad when the dressing
gong sounded in the hall.

Miss Haddon sprang up from the floor briskly.

"I rather admire you for drinking this stuff," she said. "I am sure you
do it to mortify the flesh. A Lenten penance out of Lent is most
invigorating to the mind."

As Claude went up to dress, he felt as if he never wished to touch
absinthe again. The glitter of its personality was dulled for him now
that it was looked upon as merely a nasty sort of medicine to be
indulged in as a mortification of the flesh, like wearing a hair shirt,
or rejecting meat on Fridays. He found Miss Haddon painfully prosaic. It
seemed almost silly to be a decadent in her company. To feel Turkish
alone was graceful and quaint, almost intellectual, but to have an old
lady feeling Turkish, too, and squatting on the floor to emphasise the
sensation, was tragic, seemed to bring imbecility very near. Claude
dressed with unusual agitation, and made a distinct failure of his tie.

All through dinner Miss Haddon talked optimistically about her prospects
as a successful decadent, much as if she were discussing her future on
the Stock Exchange, or as the editor of a paper. She calculated that at
her present rate of progress she ought to be almost on a level with her
guest by the end of the week, and spoke hopefully of ceasing to take any
interest in the ordinary facts of life, of learning a proper contempt
for all healthy-minded humanity, and of appreciating at its proper value
what seems to ordinary people, weak-kneed affection in literature, in
art, and, above all, in movement and in appearance. Her bright eyes
flashed upon Claude beneath her crown of powdered hair, as she talked,
and the big room rang with her jovial voice.

The boy began to feel exceedingly confused. Yet he had never been less
bored. Miss Haddon might be stout and sixty-four. Nevertheless, her net
personality was far less wearisome than that of many a town-bred sylph.
Unconsciously Claude ate with a hearty appetite, indulged immoderately
in excellent roast beef, and even swallowed a beautifully-cooked Spanish
onion without thinking of the committal of a crime. During dessert Miss
Haddon gave him a racy description of a rural cricket match and of the
supper and speeches which followed it, and he found himself laughing
heartily and wishing he had been there. He pulled himself up short with
a sudden sensation of horror, and his hostess rose to go into the
drawing-room.

"Shall we play Halma or Ek Bahr?" she asked; "or would they be out of
order? I wish particularly to conform to all your tenets."

"Dear lady, please, we have no tenets," he protested. "Do remember that,
or you will never become what you wish. But I do not care for any
games."

"Then shall we sit down and each read a volume of the 'Yellow Book'?"

She hastened towards a table to find copies of that work, but something
in her brisk and anxious movement caused Claude to exclaim hurriedly:

"Please--please teach me Halma."

That night he went up to bed flushed with triumph.

Miss Haddon had allowed him to win a couple of games. Never before had
he felt so absolutely certain of the unusual acuteness of his intellect.


IV

Three days later, Miss Haddon and Claude Melville were feeding
chickens--under protest.

"I mean to give it up, of course," the former said. "It's a degrading
pursuit; it's almost as bad as the 'things that Jimmy does,' the things
that give him such a marvellous complexion and keep his figure so
magnificent."

She threw a handful of grain to the frenzied denizens of the enlarged
meat-safe before them, and added in a tone of pensive reflectiveness:

"Why is it, I wonder, that these actions which, as you have taught me,
are unworthy of thinking people, tend to make the body so beautiful, the
eyes so bright and clear, the cheeks rose-tinted, the limbs straight and
supple?"

All the time that she was speaking her glance crept musingly over
Claude's tall, but weak-looking and rather flaccid form, seeming to
pause on his thin undeveloped arms, his lanky legs, and his slightly
yellow face. That face began to flush. She sighed.

"There must be something radically wrong in the scheme of the universe,"
she continued. "But, of course, one ought to live for the mind and for
subtle sensations, even though they do make one look an object."

Her eyes were on the chickens now, who were fighting like feathered
furies, pouncing, clucking, running for safety, grain in beak, or, with
a fiery anxiety, chasing the favoured brethren who had secured a morsel
and were hoping to be permitted to swallow it. Claude glanced at her
furtively out of the corner of his eye, and endeavoured, for the first
time in his life, to stand erect and broaden his rather narrow chest.

Silently he resolved to give instructions to his tailor not to spare the
padding in his future coats. He was glad, too, that knee-breeches, for
which he had occasionally sighed, had not come into fashion again. After
all, modern dress had its little advantages. Miss Haddon was still
scattering grain, rather in the attitude of Millet's "_Sower_," and
still talking reflectively.

"We must try to convert Jimmy," she said. "I have a good deal of
influence over him, Mr Melville. We must try to make him more like you,
more thoughtful, more inactive, more frankly sensual, more fond of
sofas, in the future than he has been in the past. Do you know, I am
ashamed to say it, but I don't believe I have ever seen Jimmy lying on a
sofa. Poor Jimmy! Look at that hen! She is choking. Hens gulp their food
so! And then, he's inclined to be persistently unselfish. That must be
stopped too. I have learnt from you that to be decadent one must be
acutely and untiringly selfish. The blessings of selfishness! What a
volume might be written upon them! Mr Melville, all chickens must be
decadent, for all chickens are entirely selfish. It is strange to think
that the average fowl is more advanced in ethics--is it ethics I
mean?--than the average man or woman, is it not? And we ate a decadent
at dinner last night. I feel almost like a cannibal."

She threw away the last grain, and was silent. But suddenly Claude
spoke.

"Miss Haddon," he said, and his voice had never sounded so boyish to her
before, "you have been laughing at me for nearly a week." He paused,
then he went on, rather unevenly, in the up-and-down tones induced by
stifled excitement, "and I have never found it out until this moment. I
suppose you think me a great fool. I daresay I have been one. But please
don't--I mean, please let us give up acting our farce."

"But have we reached the third act?" she said.

They were walking through the garden, among the crocuses and violets
now.

"I am sure I don't know," he answered, trying to seem easy. "Perhaps it
is a farce in one act."

"Perhaps it is not a farce at all, my dear boy," she said very gently
and with a sudden old-world gravity that was not without its grace.

They reached the house. She put her basket down on the oak table in the
wide hall, and faced him in the eager way that was natural to her, and
that was so youthful.

"Mr Melville--Claude," she said, as she held out her hand, clad in a
very countrified brown glove, with a fan-like gauntlet, "of all Jimmy's
friends I think I shall like you the best. People who have acted
together ought to be good comrades."

He took the hand. That seemed necessary.

"But I haven't been acting," he said.

"Oh, yes, you have," she answered, "and I have only been on the stage
for a week; while you--well, I suppose you have been on it for at least
two or three years. I am taking my farewell of it this morning, and
you--?"

The boy's face was deeply flushed, but he did not look, or feel,
actually angry.

"I don't know about myself yet," he said.

"Think it all over," the old lady exclaimed. "And now let us have lunch.
I am hungry."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jimmy arrived that evening.

"How old are you, Claude?" he exclaimed, clapping his friend on the
back.

"I am not sure," Claude replied. "But I almost begin to wish that I were
sixty-four."



THE TEE-TO-TUM


I

Jack Burnham was quite determined not to marry Mrs Lorton, and if there
was one thing in the world upon which she had rigidly set her heart it
was upon refusing him. There were several things about her which he
deliberately disliked. In the first place, she was a widow, and he
always had an uneasy suspicion that widows, like dynamite, were
mysteriously dangerous. Then her Christian name was Harriet, and she
never took afternoon tea. The former of these two facts indicated,
according to his ideas, that her parents were people of bad taste, the
latter that she possessed notions that were against nature. Also, she
was well informed, and knew it. This condition of the mind, he
considered, should be the blessed birthright of the male sex, and he
looked upon her as an usurper. She didn't wear mourning, which implied
that she was forgetful--of dead husbands. Then--well, that was about all
he had against her, and it was quite enough.

As for her, the whole nature of her protested eloquently against the way
he waxed his moustache, against the colour of his brown hair, and of
his brown boots, against his lounging gait, and his opinion of Mr
Gladstone. He had a certain arrogance about him, when with her, which
arose in truth from his fear of her intellectual prowess. This led her
to dub him intolerably conceited. She desired to humble him, and
considered that she could best do so by refusing his offer of marriage.
But she must first persuade him to propose. That was the difficulty.

They were constantly meeting in London. You always constantly meet your
enemies in London. And, when they met, they always devoted a great deal
of time to the advancement of the tacit and polite quarrel between them.
They argued with one another in Hyde Park on fine mornings, and were
really disgusted with one another at dinner parties and "At Homes." He
thought her fast--at balls; and she had once considered him blatant--at
a Marlborough House garden party. This last fact, indeed, put the coping
stone to the feud between them, for Mrs Lorton expressed her opinion to
a friend, and Burnham, of course, got to know of it. To be thought
blatant at Marlborough House was really intolerable. One might as well
be pronounced to have had a heathen air at Lambeth Palace.

Distinctly, Jack Burnham and Harriet Lorton were acutely antagonistic.

Yet, there must surely have been some strange, unknown link of sympathy
between them, for they both caught the influenza on the same day--it
was a Sunday morning--and both permitted it to develop into double
pneumonia.

After all, spar as we may, are we not all brothers and sisters?

The double pneumonia ought to have drawn them together; but, as he lived
in Piccadilly and she in Queen's Gate, and each was thoroughly
self-centred--nothing produces egoism so certainly as influenza--neither
knew of the illness of the other.

Providence denied to both that subtle joy, and they got to the mutton
chop and chipped potato stage of convalescence in childlike ignorance of
each other's misfortune.

There must certainly have been a curious community of mind between them,
for both their doctors ordered them to Margate, and they both took rooms
at Westgate. Now a similar taste in seaside places is undoubtedly an
excellent foundation for eternal friendship. Let the world crumble in
atoms, two people who both like Westgate will still find something to
talk about amid the confusion occasioned by the dissolution of kingdoms.

Jack Burnham arrived at the St Mildred's Hotel on a Thursday, with his
man.

Harriet Lorton came on the following Friday, with her maid.

Neither had any notion of the other's proceedings until they met back to
back, as you shall presently hear.


II

In ordinary circumstances of health and vigour, Burnham and Mrs Lorton
possessed dispositions of quite singular vivacity, looked upon life as a
fairly good, if rather practical joke, and were fully disposed to
consider happiness their _métier_. Being modern, they sometimes
concealed their original gaiety, as if it were original sin, and
pretended to a cruel cynicism; yet at heart, it must be confessed, they
were as lively as poor children playing in the street. But when they
went to Westgate, influenza had had its fill of them, and the infinite
pathos of the world, and of all that is therein, appealed to them with a
seizing vitality. Burnham, on the Thursday, was moved to tears at
Birchington Station by the sight of a mother and eleven children missing
the last train to Margate. Harriet Lorton, on the following Friday, had
hysterics at Victoria, when she perceived a young lady drop a cage
containing a grey parrot, and smash the bird's china bath upon the
platform. The fact that the parrot had been actually taking its bath at
the moment, and was left by the misfortune in much confusion and no
water, struck her so poignantly as nearly to break her heart. She wept
in a first-class carriage all the way down, and arrived at Westgate,
towards ten o'clock, in a state of complete collapse.

Mr Burnham was in bed drinking a cup of soup at this time. He heard the
luggage being carried up, but did not suspect whose it was.
Nevertheless, the ravages of disease led him to consider the slight
noise and bustle a personal insult, and he lay awake most of the night
brooding upon the wrongs of which he, erroneously, believed himself to
be the victim.

It was on the next morning that the two invalids met back to back in a
shelter with glass partitions upon the lawn.

Mrs Lorton, smothered in wraps, had taken up her position on the bench
that faces Westgate without noticing a bowed and ulstered figure, shod
in brown boots, sitting in a haggard posture on the reciprocal bench
that faces the sea. Nobody was about, for it was not the season, and Mrs
Lorton began slowly to weep on account of the loneliness. It struck her
disordered fancy as so personal. Creation was sending her to Coventry.
At her back the tears ran over Burnham's handsome countenance. He was
staring at the sea, and thinking of all the people who had been drowned
in water since the days of the Deluge. He wondered how many there were,
and cried copiously, considering himself absolutely alone and free to
give vent to his feelings, which struck him as splendidly human.

When two people weep together one of them usually weeps louder than the
other, and, on this occasion, Burnham made the most noise. He became,
in fact, so uproariously solicitous about the drowned men and women whom
he had never known that Mrs Lorton gradually was made aware of the
presence of another mourner who was not a mute. She turned round and
beheld a back convulsed with emotion. Its grief went straight to her
heart, and, casting her own sorrow and her sense of etiquette to the
wind--which blew bracingly from the north-east--she tapped upon the
glass screen that bisected the shelter.

Burnham took no notice. He was too deeply involved in grief. So Mrs
Lorton knocked again, with all the vigour that incipient convalescence
gave to her. This time Burnham was startled, and turned a hollow face
upon her. They stared at each other through the intervening glass for a
moment in wild surprise, the tears congealing upon their cheeks.

Beyond Burnham Mrs Lorton saw the whirling white foam of the sea. Beyond
Mrs Lorton Burnham saw the neat villas of Westgate. It struck them both
as a tremendous moment, and they trembled.

Remember that they were very weak.

At last he, conceiving naturally that she had recognised and desired to
summon him, walked slowly round to her side of the shelter, and held out
to her a wavering hand.

"Good heavens!" he ejaculated. "The last person I--"

"You!" said Mrs Lorton. "How astonishing! What on earth--"

He seized the opening she gave him with all the ardour of the
whole-souled influenza patient.

"I have been ill," he said with a deep pathos, "very, very ill. My
symptoms were most extraordinary."

He sank down heavily at her side, and continued, "I doubt if any one has
endured such agony before. It began on a Sunday with--"

"So did mine," Mrs Lorton interrupted with some show of determination.
"You cannot conceive what it was like. I had pains in every limb, every
limb positively. The doctor--"

"Of course I went straight to bed," he remarked with firmness. "I knew
at once what was wrong. But mine was no ordinary case. Talk of
thumbscrews! Why--"

"For nights I tossed in agony," she went on with a poignant self-pity,
so much engrossed that she never noticed the brown boots which on other
occasions had so deeply offended her. "Morphia and eucalyptus were no--"

"He said it was pneumonia, double pneumonia," Burnham concluded
emphatically. "How I came through it I shall never know." His smile at
this point was wan, and seemed to deprecate existence. "I suppose there
is still some work for me to do. At the same time, I--"

"Mine was also double!" Mrs Lorton said with distinct tartness,
condemning privately his arrogance, and noticing the boots with a
strange feeling of sudden and unutterable despair.

"It is all so much worse for a woman," she added vaguely, with some idea
of out-doing him, such as she had felt once or twice at dinner parties,
when her epigrams had been smarter than his.

"The strong possess a greater capacity for suffering than the weak,"
Burnham retorted. "Medical science tells us that--"

"Please spare me the revelations of the dissecting-room," she cried
bitterly; "I am in no condition to bear them."

She glanced at him with pathetic eyes, and added, "I ought to have gone
to Margate."

"I ought to have gone there too," he said.

"Really, you make the conversation sound like one of Maeterlinck's
plays," she rejoined. "Do be more original."

The reproach cut him to the heart. He never knew why, but he felt so
much injured that he with great difficulty restrained his tears.

"Women can be very brutal," he said moodily, biting his lips, and
wondering how many authors it was necessary to read in order never to be
at a disadvantage with a clever woman.

Mrs Lorton was conscious that she had hurt him, and instead of being her
nice, natural self and glorying in the fact, she experienced a sense of
profound pity that gave her quite a tightened feeling about the left
side. However, she only said, "Men can be very selfish"--a generality
that many people consider as convincing as a bomb--and got up to go.

"I am staying at the St Mildred's," she remarked. "It is the dull
season, so I am the only person there at present."

"I beg your pardon," Burnham said, also getting upon his feet, "I am
there too. My number is 12 and I have a private sitting-room. I do not
feel up to the coffee-room yet."

Mrs Lorton turned as pale as ashes with vexation. She had no private
sitting-room, and had ordered dinner in the coffee-room for that very
evening.

She felt herself at a disadvantage as they walked in a gloomy silence
towards the beach.


III

Three days had passed away, and Jack Burnham had found that he was, in
his own phrase, "up to the coffee-room" after all. In consequence, Mrs
Lorton and he dined there every evening at separate tables. A sense of
rivalry--and there is no rivalry more keen than that between contesting
invalids--prevented both of them from eating as much as they would have
liked. When the widow refused a course, Burnham shook his head at it
wearily, and they rose from their meals in a state of passionate hunger,
which they solaced with captain's biscuits in the seclusion of their
bedrooms. Since they had Westgate almost to themselves, and the weather
was becoming bright and warm, they were much out of doors; but their
profound depression still continued, and they were as morbid human
beings as Max Nordau could have desired to meet with when he was seeking
for specimens of degeneration.

Their continual greedy anxiety to narrate the details of their physical
and mental sensations drove them to seek one another's company, and soon
it became an understood thing that they should sit together on the lawn
or in the winter garden during the morning, and stroll feebly in the
direction of Margate during the breezy afternoon.

These times were times of battle, of a struggle for supremacy in
symptoms that led to much heart searching and to infinite exaggeration.
Mrs Lorton, being a woman, generally got the best of it, and Burnham
entered the hotel at tea-time with set teeth, and an appalling sense of
injustice and of failure in his breast. One night at dinner, determined
to conquer or to die, he refused everything but soup; and noted, with a
grim satisfaction, that Mrs Lorton could hardly contain her chagrin at
having inadvertently devoured a cutlet and a spoonful of jelly. Indeed,
her temper was so much upset by this occurrence that she went straight
to bed on leaving the coffee-room, and sent down a message the next
morning to say that she was far too ill to venture out.

Burnham, therefore, sat in the shelter alone, cursing the craft of
woman. In the intervals between the cursings he was conscious of a
certain loneliness that seemed to be in the atmosphere. It hovered with
the seagulls above the sprightly waves, swept over the lawn hand in hand
with the wind, basked in the sunshine, and companioned him closely upon
the esplanade as he walked home to lunch. He was puzzled by it.

At lunch-time Mrs Lorton was still confined to bed, so her maid
announced. Burnham promptly began to wonder whether she was going to
die. He strolled towards Margate wondering, and found himself presently
in the sunset, gazing with tears in his eyes at the silhouette of
Margate Pier, and, mentally, placing a reverent tribute of flowers from
Covent Garden upon her early grave in Brompton Cemetery.

He also found himself, later, dropping a tear at the thought of his own
death, for of course with his weak health he could not hope to outlive
anybody for very long. Mrs Lorton's absence at dinner struck him as more
pathetic than all the misery of the travailing universe, until he
remembered that at last he could gratify his appetite, and even accept
two _entrées_ at the hands of the waiter.

Life, if it is full of sorrows, is also full of consolations.

He ate steadily for a couple of hours, pitying himself all the time.

Next day Mrs Lorton re-appeared in a very bad temper. Her seclusion,
although it had enabled her to score several points off her rival, had
been in other respects wearisome and vexatious. She barely nodded to
Burnham, and went out towards the shelter alone. He followed furtively,
longing, as usual, for condolence, and presently saw her seat herself
facing the sea. The strained relations between them seemed to forbid his
placing himself at her side. The back-to-back posture would be more
illustrative of the exact position of affairs, and Burnham's nicety and
accuracy of mind induced him accordingly to face Westgate. Their
positions of the first day were thus reversed. She looked at the sea; he
stared at the villas. Strange turmoil of life, in which we never know
which way we shall be facing next! It struck Burnham suddenly, and so
forcibly, _à propos_ of his and Mrs Lorton's reversal, that the ready
tears sprang to his eyes. How would it all end? Man spins about like a
tee-to-tum, bowing to all points of the compass. The time comes when the
tee-to-tum runs down--and what then? Burnham was certainly run down.
That must be his excuse for what he did. He glanced behind him through
the glass screen, and saw by the motion of Mrs Lorton's back that she
was sobbing. In truth, the sight of the dancing waves had set her
thinking of all the poor people who have been drowned in water since the
beginning of things. Poor dead folk! She was trembling with emotion, and
still wept mechanically when she found Mr Burnham on her side of the
shelter proposing to her with all his might and main. He was asking her
to comfort him, to be a true woman and shield him with her strength, to
support his tottering footsteps along the rugged ways of life, to dry
his tears and stay the agonies of his shaken soul.

"Your health will help my weakness," he said. "Your vigour will teach me
to be strong."

It was a strange proposal, and she began to defend herself from his
imputations, stating her maladies, marshalling her symptoms of decay in
an imposing procession.

But it was no good. He had taken her unawares and got the start of her.
She felt it, and his determined weakness obtained a power over her which
she could never afterwards explain.

His influenza triumphed, for she forgot her resolution.

A wave of morbid pity for him swept over the woman in her. If he was
disorganised now, what would be his condition if she refused him?

"Have I the right," she asked herself, "to devote a fellow-creature to
everlasting misery?"

Her influenza told her plainly that she had not.

       *       *       *       *       *

People say that the marriage will really come off.

Jack Burnham announced it everywhere before Mrs Lorton got thoroughly
well, and Mrs Lorton told everybody while Jack Burnham was still what
his friends called "awfully dicky."

One can but hope that their married life will be passed on the same side
of the shelter. If he persists in facing the sea, and she in staring at
the villas--well, they will live most of Ibsen's plays!

But at least they will be modern.

And so the tee-to-tum, thought of pathetically by Burnham on a memorable
occasion, spins round, and the sea and the villas are the two aspects of
life.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:


Inconsistent hyphenation has been retained.

Duplicate title headings at the beginning of the book and before each
story have been removed.

The following corrections were made to the text:

p. 267: missing period added (danced merrily.)

p. 325: single close quote to double close quote ("I hope you will not
be bored,")

p. 328: healthly to healthy (fresh and healthy interest)

p. 331: be to he ("A little more restrained," he said.)

p. 349: paragraph break removed after comma (and continued, "I doubt if
any one)





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